Day 88, Living life on my terms.
Now that Thanksgiving is over, I am starting to think about things I need to accomplish for this year’s Christmas Holiday. Of course it goes without saying that I will prepare a dinner and attempt to get together with family whenever possible. However, my favorite thing is to see the joy in the eyes of children as they dream and wonder about what will be awaiting them beneath their tree.
For many years, I was what most adults called Santa’s “helper” (wink, wink). I spent hours upon hours dressed in my best Christmas outfit listening to any child who wanted to tell me what they wanted for Christmas.
It was in my my earliest days of being the “helper” when we used to actually decorate a firetruck with Christmas lights and connect them to the on board generator. Then we would drive all around town and wish people a Merry Christmas over the PA system on the truck. Driving up and down the side streets of Coudersport, we called out to families in all of the homes that we knew.
As Coudersport was starting to embrace the idea of holding more holiday activities, it was apparent that my suit was not holding up very well. Deloris Gartside was a member of both the Chamber of Commerce and the Potter County Fine Arts Council. Between her and a few others, they decided to have a new suit made and custom fit to me, since I was kind of embraced as Santa’s “helper” for the town.
So there I was, working at Erway’s Market in the produce section one night and these two ladies same rushing in the door to measure me. I had no idea what was going on at first as they came at me with measuring tapes and note pads. It was Betty Leete and her friend Mrs. Gooch who were tasked with the duty of getting me dressed properly before the next holiday.
Within a month, I was completely fitted with new pants, jacket, boots, hat, and the all-important whiskers that were necessary to complete the ensemble. They only problem being it was built for looks and not warmth. After three hours of sitting with children at the gazebo on a cold Friday night, I didn’t think I was ever going to thaw. Of course, most of the gigs that I did were indoors and it was plenty warm enough for those.
The best part of the whole thing was seeing the children and having personal little conversations with them. I remember preparing for the holiday season by researching toy catalogs and becoming familiar with all of the “need to have” toys. Sometimes when the child was afraid to talk I would make little suggestions to try and encourage them.
When they were excited about a toy, I would get excited as well. I remember discussing the intricate details with how the toys were put together and how much fun it was to test them out before delivery.
Occasionally, they would ask questions related to the various Christmas television shows. I would talk about Santa's wife, who used to be Miss Jessica and she worked with children in Sombertown. Then there is Hermie the Elf who became the North Pole dentist and Clorice, the doe reindeer who is madly in love with Rudolph.
The question I was asked most often was where I kept the reindeer when I visited Coudersport. I would tell them about a farmer who had a huge farm about 5 miles up Dingman Run. He would take care of the Deer while I visited. I figured if any parents were forced to drive that far up there looking for the "reindeer" they might just come across some regular deer and the kids would believe they saw the real thing.
After we were done talking about the important things, I would sometimes ask where to put presents if I ran out of room under the tree. “Where ever you want,” was the most common reply as the child would laugh and smile. Before they left my knee, I made sure to check on the cookie situation and if they were going to help their moms with the baking.
Occasionally, children would bring me a homemade trinket or an actual written list. I still have every letter I ever received as well as ornaments that adorn my own tree each year that I was given. They are some of my most treasured possessions.
One year, the fire department decorated the front room as the North Pole. There was a mailbox for kids to leave a letter for Santa and each kid who gave their address would get a personal reply letter back in the mail. I sat with children from all over at that North Pole, I even got to spend some time with some special adults as well.
One of the group homes in town brought their residents down to visit with me and that day I discovered the true meaning of unconditional love. These people were a little bit older but their faith in Santa was just like that of a child. It was such a special treat to have them sit on my lap, get a picture taken, and ask them what they wanted for Christmas. I got hugs and kisses before they left and everyone involved from the fire department was a little bit misty-eyed observing how much joy was created with those special visitors.
Aside from this secular side of Christmas, I always like to remember the sacred reason for the season. For me, it will always be “Merry CHRISTmas” and I hope people can respect that. In my mind it would not be right to refer to it with any other amalgamation of terms. It is not my intent to be forceful about this, but I will not apologize about my position either.
In the end it is a time for friends and families to get together and most of all, it is a time for kids. Like the Oak Ridge Boys sang it;
“Thank God for kids there’s magic for a while,
A special kind of sunshine in a smile.
Did you ever stop to think, or wonder why?
The nearest thing to heaven, is a child!”
Today I am dedicating my step forward to all of the children as they await the arrival of that special Christmas morning. Whether they are 5 months old, 5 years old, or even 55 years old; they only need to believe in the power of the season to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men.