The fantastic designs and colors in the longest, darkest nights of the year never cease to make me feel like a kid again, and I think back to the Christmases of my childhood when we would take a nighttime tour of town just before the big holiday, looking at all the different decorations.
We’d pile in the car and my Dad would drive us around from Mountain View to Walker Street with a stop for cocoa at my Nana’s who lived on Second East. Then we’d peruse the Steenville and Taylor subdivisions, finally getting back to our house on Fifth West, where my Dad would say, “Now there’s the prettiest house of all, and it’s our house!”
Up on the rooftop of that rambling ranch home stood Santa Claus and some reindeer, right next to our real sandstone chimney that poked out the roof. Those life-size models of St. Nick and his crew were made by my Mom long before I could remember her doing so. Apparently, she’d found some ambitious time to make them in local a craft class, even with a newspaper to help run and small children to raise. The one-dimensional reproductions of that popular character and his cast were cut from plywood and painted, and then were propped on top of our house a week or two before Christmas.
My folks managed to get lights strung along the roof, and it was with those big, fat bulbs that aren’t used as much anymore. I could help drape them through the shrubbery in front of the house, and I remember that if my hands got a little cold I could warm them on some of the darker colors but not the white ones. The lights would go up early in December, and I would inquire about when Santa could be placed on top. “Not yet, it’s too early,” Mom would say. Same for the Christmas tree, which never appeared before the 10th.
Good ole’ Santa is the only figure still left from that handmade crew. He’s been drug over the years and seasons from Fifth West to the farm a couple miles away, then to Park City to Spanish Valley and now Professor Valley. He’s so old he’s vintage! He’s nearly 50, and looks like he’s straight out of the 1960s, with a coat of red and white that is faded just right. He has the patina of age that dates him in a good way.
I suppose the rest of Santa’s friends went to the dump in bits and pieces. Reindeer legs are delicate at best, and their antlers even more so. I’ve tried to remember what the whole set looked like, and I think it included a sled. But I’m not sure whether I’m making it up or whether the vision in my head is real. Either way, Kris Kringle is again propped up this year, and has been reinforced on his back side with some two-by-fours. His boots broke off long ago, as did the tip of his hat, but it doesn’t matter. The stubs of his feet point into the ground. He really hasn’t aged much over the years, same as the Santas that live in our hearts. He is an ageless wonder.
This year, Santa has moved to the country, out to the ranch along the river. Not as many people see him as when he was in town, but I think he looks great propped next to a wagon that was used in a western movie filmed here about 20 years ago. He’s got a hand out waving hello, and a round bag that one might imagine to be filled with toys and gifts.
The best memories may be part imaginary and part authentic. My old Santa helps to keep holiday joy real wherever I live.
Merry Christmas everyone!