Friday, December 9, 2011

An Acre Christmas Memory - Part III

The Santa from Green's (right).  The Santa on the left is from my memere's tree, circa, 1900s.

I would sit next to that tree and watch Santa Claus on channel 9.  The New Hampshire local station had this guys named Gus Lemire.  He would read letters sent in by kids, and read the list of what they wanted.  For some unknown reason, even though I never sent Santa a letter I would sit there and listen to this guy read letter after letter hoping somehow in his infinite wisdom Santa would know just what I wanted, and he would say my name on tv.  If only once, just once it would happen.  But alas it never did. 

A trip to the downtown Santa would have to suffice.  The Bon Marche had a very nice Santa and they had all those Christmas trees lit up on the overhang along Merrimack Street.  They also had the large manger in the storefront.  This was at a time when no one was afraid of mentioning what Christmas was all about.  The other Santa at Pollards was quite nice too.  There were other Santas scattered throughout downtown, but these were the cheapo knockoffs.  Instead of a throne and images of the North Pole.  They sat on a kitchen chair and had wrapping paper as a backdrop.  I was no country bumpkin.  I knew the real Santa was just too busy to come to Lowell and these were his helpers.  One particular visit stands in mind.  It was the first year we had a car, a 2 door, blue, 1951 Ford.  My dad parked on Lee Street and as I was trying to get out the driver’s side door.  My dad closed the door and hit me square on the head.  I flew back and landed on the seat.  You would have thought I had committed a crime.  Perhaps I had passed out for just a moment, but when my wits were once again about me, my father was yelling to get out of the car and stop my whining.  The first stop was St. Joseph’s Shrine Gift Shop.  Located in the basement under the church, my mother felt obliged to buy a religious gift for the Sisters who taught my sister and me.  Why my mother thought nuns wanted something holy was beyond me, but I was assured she knew what she was doing.  Every year was the same thing stationary with a religious image on it.  The only choice that had to be made was what image to include.  The Miraculous Medal was always a big hit with the nun crowd, but of course Saint Jude was always a safe choice.  My mother felt it her yearly duty to explain that the good Sisters were never able to actually keep their stationary since they were under a vow of poverty and had to give their gift to Mother Superior.  I wondered what was the sense of even buying the gift in the first place if that was all true. 

Now it was time to see Santa and present my list to him.  The anxiety was almost too much.  What would he say?  Was I a good boy?  Could he see through me and tell I was lying everytime I nodded my head?  Did he really have a list?  Does he really check it twice? After presenting my petitions, all he’d say is. “We’ll see.”  We’ll see?  What the heck is that all about, I want commitment.  You should know by now which list I am on.  You just can’t get Santa helpers like you used to.

We’d stroll the downtown area looking at the displays in store windows and green lighted garlands that stretched across Merrimack and Central Streets.  When we got to Greens’ 5 & 10 soda fountain we all took a seat.  My folks got a coffee, but my sister and I got hot chocolate.  Then I saw the sign on the wall- a free plastic Santa to whoever ordered a hot chocolate.  I wanted one in the worst way.  The waitress with the big pink hankie with holly pinned to her uniform, was a friend of my mother’s, brought over 2 plastic Santa ornaments.  I was ecstatic.  It was like mega bucks and the Irish lottery rolled into one. As soon as we got into the house the Santa was given a proud placement on the tree.  I’m proud to say he still manages to do so today more than 50 years later.  Before getting back in the car we would walk over to the manger in front of City Hall.  The fifures were life sized.  The camels stood as tall as an adult and the feeling you got there made you think of the first Christmas night.  Often we stood there in silence, the smell of hay wafting in the cold night air.

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