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On the record about Santa Claus


Like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, whom you'll hear if you click on the video below, I believe in Santa Claus.

Perhaps unlike Ms. Parton and Mr. Rogers, though, my declaration that Old Santa Claus, as my dad used to call him, is real is based on a split decision.  Call it belief first and practicality a close second.

My brother and I grew up in what you might call a loving home of modest means almost in the shadows of the Chance Vought (later to be called Ling-Temco-Vought) aircraft plant in Grand Prairie, Tex.  Our dad worked at "The Plant" building warplanes of mass destruction.  My older brother did too, although over on the white collar side.

RPlayer251rI succumbed to the siren's blaring whistle of a solid steady, if modest paycheck as well briefly in my early college years.  At least I did until I tripped and fell about 10 feet to the cement floor out of the cockpit of an A-7 Corsair II fighter jet.  I prefer to say that I was the first one to bail out of that sleek bird of prey.

That's when I decided factories weren't for me.  A pretty good indication was that I hated the place and despised almost everything it stood for.  My anti-war feelings grew with every rivet I installed. 

In my youth, though, when I was 11 or 12, The Plant, as my dad always called it, occupied a more revered place in my curious mind.  That was where my father walked off to every morning to put food -- some meat, but lots of beans and stews -- on the table.  When there was some jingle left in Dad's pocket on weekends, we'd drive up to the Prairie Dog on East Main where -- in the early mid-60s -- we'd share a sack of seven-for-$1 burgers.

I am not making this up.

That's when I cemented my belief in Old Santa Claus that remains rock-solid to this day.

I was about 11, and more than a few of my friends were tossing around the "Santa is not real" theory.  Not me, though.  The practical side of sticking with the chubby guy in the red suit leaving gifts trumped actual faith at that time.

In our humble home, my brother and I got, at the most, two presents from our parents.  Santa left a third one. 

You do the math.  I wasn't about to take one-third of my presents, in fact usually the best one, out of the gift mix.

Figuring that out was easy.  The second part of the equation, i.e. actually believing in Old Santa Claus, came via an extremely tough lesson.

The kids across the street were doing all they could to corrupt me in my 11th year.  In addition to debunking the fact that Santa even existed, they also told me that when their parents were away from the house they would carefully open the packages to see what they were getting.  Of course, they would reseal everything.

I would never even consider doing anything that disrespectful.  So I did something worse.

I really, really, really wanted a red and white portable record player that year.  I had to have it on the same level that Ralphie needed that Red Ryder BB Gun in "A Christmas Story" (1983).  There was this sensational new singing group from Great Britain called The Beatles burning up the record charts, you see.  I simply had to have that record player.

Some of you may recall that once upon a time there was something called "being practical." My parents -- my dad especially -- were firm believers that if you couldn't afford something, you simply did not get it.  Even I knew we couldn't afford the record player I craved so much.

Did I let it go?  Nope.  As calmly as I could, I informed my parents that I'd pretty much just lie down and die if I didn't get that record player.

The Saturday before  Christmas, my mom and dad and I were motoring west on Main St. when my dad parked the car in front of the A&P.  That was just a few doors down from Skillern's Drug Store, where the red-and-white record player waited for me, just itching for me to plug it in and turn up the volume on a few "Yeah, yeah, yeahs" from The Beatles. 

"You wait in the car," my dad said.  "We'll be back in a minute."

If only I'd waited in the car like my parents said.

A tsunami of curiosity engulfed me to a point where I couldn't even take a breath.  So I slipped from the car and eased down the sidewalk toward the Skillern's window hugging the wall all the way.  I peeked in to see My Record Player out on the counter.  My dad had money in his hand.  Dad's hands were moving toward the clerk behind the counter ... 

For whatever reason, Dad glanced toward the window and saw me looking through the glass.

In what must have taken only a few seconds, but seemed like an eternity to me, my father shook his head "No" at the clerk, put the bills back in his pocket and -- with the sternest look I ever saw on his face -- escorted my mom toward the door.

I barely beat them to the car and scrambled into the back seat.  Neither of them said a word about the incident.  (In fact, they never did.)

That was the saddest Christmas Eve of my life.  How could they?  After all, The Beatles were counting on me.  For all practical purposes, my life was over.

The next morning, I slumped into the living room, merely going through the Christmas morning motions.  And under the tree, what did I see?

My red-and-white portable record player!  Yeah, yeah, yeah, life was wonderful and The Beatles' career was saved.

Merry Christmas, everybody!  Never stop believing.

Hit it, Dolly and Kenny ... (Click arrow below)


(Record player image courtesy:  http://www.bl.uk


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