Pilgrim Path

This blog is the work of a seeker and poet. Walking stick in hand, I head out into the world, not of the world, but in the world. My words and my friends carry me along and light the pilgrim path of spiritual journeys.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Several weeks ago, I tackled a long overdue task of cleaning out the garage…or at least “starting” that job. Most of the items I touched made the very short trip to the garbage can. However, I found a mini-photo album with several early childhood black-and-white photos of myself that had been missing-in-action for some time and I was very glad to find it. Despite my exhaustion from pawing through so much “crap,” I was very excited to drive over to the neighborhood Walgreen’s later that same day to convert these newly found treasures into digital photos.

During the time it took for the scanner to work its magic, I had a chance to look at each picture more closely. I was surprised at how quickly the childhood memories came flooding back. While most of the pictures were taken when I was an age too early to remember the circumstances, there were a few that prompted vivid memories. Witness:

Yes, that is me. I’m standing in front of Santa a.k.a. Uncle Don. Uncle Don was my mother’s oldest brother. I’m not sure exactly when he began playing Santa, but I’m pretty sure his performances spanned 5 decades. He began playing Santa for the American Legion post where he was very active. It sort of ruins the mystique of his work to wade too deeply in the facts. I’d rather wallow in the memories.

Each year, my father and I would hop in the car and drive over to the Legion Hall on 38th Street at Central Park Avenue. It was always a very dark night just days before Christmas. As we’d exit the car, you could feel the electricity in the air – at some point tonight, Santa would arrive. I remember always glancing up to the roof of the Hall to see if I could catch a peek of a Santa who might have arrived early. On balmy winter evenings, I’d worry about the rails of the sleigh on the roof. (At some point, I was assured that Santa would plan ahead and fasten wheels to the rails on snowless visits.)

Entering the Legion Hall, there was a steep set of stairs to climb to get to the hall where the entertainment would perform as we waited for Santa. One year, there would be a puppeteer with marionettes; another year there would be a magician. We didn’t really care too much about their acts as we were just eager for them to exit the stage so we could begin singing carols in anticipation of Santa’s arrival.

You could never tell each year how many carols it would take for Santa to arrive. I quickly learned that it was wise to keep one ear open while singing carols for the sounds of Santa’s sleigh landing on the roof. An otherwise frightening thud would shake the building and simultaneously about 200 children would be catapulted into a frenzy that stirs my heart to this day.

I have no idea how they managed, but the women’s auxiliary would corral us into an orderly line so as to visit with Santa and get our stocking filled with simple games and cheap candy. The gift didn’t even matter – the experience and the memory of it were most important.

Being related to “Santa” brought an amazing benefit: a personal home visit. There is a magic in a child’s oblivion. I’m sure that there were many calls to arrange the date and time of the visit, but I never caught on. We lived in a second floor rental apartment, but on a random night before Christmas, while already dressed in my pajamas, I would hear the loud jingling of a leather strap full of bells from down the street. I’d run to the front window and see Santa walking down my street. The best part of this all was that I knew he was coming to visit ME!

There’s not a Christmas that goes by without these warm memories being stirred. Uncle Don may well be my favorite male role model. Even when not in his Santa “uniform” he was a gregarious, generous soul. I adored the tenderness with which he treated my mother (his sister). I respected him for the way his personality gently fit his role as “patriarch” of my mother’s side of the family. There was always a hearty laugh ready to explode from way down deep.

Like Santa, Uncle Don will always live in my heart.

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Blogger John said...

You stirred memory, Pilgrim...thank you so very much...beautiful...somedays, sometimes, it really is a wonderful life...

7:30 AM  

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