Thursday, December 27, 2007

Believing in Santa

(I know I'm a little late, but I'm still in the Christmas spirit...)

I grew up believing in Santa.

One Christmas Eve when I was very young, my brother and I heard him knock over an ashtray in the living room. We didn’t get out of bed though – we were too afraid. We knew he only came once we were asleep, and we didn’t want him to catch us awake.

So we just laid there frozen in our bunk beds until we finally dozed off again. But for years, that was proof that he was real.


Throughout elementary school, I had the hardest time falling asleep on Christmas Eve. I would just lie there, wide awake in my brand new footy pajamas (every year we received new pj’s so we’d look presentable in the Christmas morning photos). Every once in a while I would turn over and look out the window above my headboard.

No reindeer on the roof.

No sight of them in the sky.

I would lie there waiting for him for as long as I could, but I’d eventually doze off sometime after midnight.

In the morning when I ran downstairs to check under the tree…

“He came! He came!”

And I would wake everyone in the house.

One year it was my brother who woke me. It was about 3:30 in the morning and sure enough, the presents were overflowing from beneath our twinkling tree. Duane woke me up first, and then the two of us ran to wake Mommy and Daddy.

“He came!”

“He did?”

“Yeah! Can we open presents? Please??”

“You can each open one, and then we’re going back to bed until the morning.”

My mother chose two from the pile that looked identical. One had my brother’s name on it, and one had mine.

Inside we each found tape recorders and three-packs of blank cassettes.

My parents went back to bed, and Duane and I set out to master the buttons and record our voices onto the tapes.

“Well… it’s Christmas morning,” Duane announced in a voice that was scratchy from a winter cold. “Mom and Dad went back to bed, and me and Tam are playing with our new tape recorders that Santa brought us.”

“I wanna talk!” I whined from the background.


My brother slid the recorder over to me, and I sang a song I learned from Bugs Bunny:

“I wiss I was in Dixie... Hooway! Hooway! I wiss I was in Dixie… Hooway!”

Lots of giggles followed, and then the loud click of my brother stopping the tape.

We stayed awake playing with our tape recorders until the sun came up. And when my parents finally got out of bed and made some coffee, we were allowed to see what else Santa brought…


When I was a little older, we used to call a phone number advertised on TV to hear a story read by Santa. I’ll never forget the year we called at around 9 o’clock on Christmas Eve. Santa didn’t answer – it was Mrs. Claus:

“Oh my goodness,” she said. “What are you still doing awake? Santa is on his way to New York right now!”

I think our eyes shot out of our heads and ricocheted around the room like superballs. “Santa’s on his way here right now! We gotta go to bed!”


Duane was in 5th grade when his friend John caught his parents putting the presents under their tree. And he told Duane, and Duane told me.

“There’s no such thing as Santa, y’know.”

“There’s not?”


“Well I’m not telling Mom and Dad that I know.”

“Why not?”

“Cuz then I’ll only get half as many presents.”

You see, about half of ours were labeled “From: Mom and Dad” and the rest were labeled “From: Santa.” I figured if I let on that I knew, there went half my stuff.

I was no dummy.

Christmas isn’t quite the same once you don’t believe. It’s fun to get all the presents, of course, but it’s more fun when you believe that something magical happens while you’re sleeping.

I was fourteen when my little brother was born and the magic was rekindled in our house.

When he was eight years old, Mandy was born, and so the magic continued on.

It wasn’t easy with her though… she was an extremely inquisitive child. I had to have very creative and consistent answers to her questions, consistent handling of such things as wrapping paper and handwriting, and even some serious acting skills.

“Mom….. this present says Santa, but it’s wrapped in YOUR wrapping paper.”

My face looked shocked, then even more shocked, then a vision of pure amazement…

“He… touched… our… stuff??? Oh my gosh! I wonder what else he touched!!” I started looking around the room.

“You think he used our tape and scissors too?” I asked. “I wonder if we can fingerprint this stuff?!”

She gasped. “You think he could have done it without his gloves on?”

“I don’t know! This is so cool! Are there any others he wrapped with our paper???”

And so another hole in the amusing charade was filled in, and the magic lived on. Mall Santas, flying reindeer, how the dogs sleep through it all… I creatively explained every piece of the puzzle, or at least presented a sound hypothesis. And when I just didn’t know how to answer, I’d say, “You know, I’ve always wondered about that too. What do you think?”

In the fifth grade she figured it out after seeing a movie on TV. And with that, all the magic collapsed liked dominoes, one after the other – the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny – everything gone in one fell swoop.

She was even a little annoyed that I had lied to her.

Of course, the holiday isn’t really about presents or Santa, and my daughter knows that.

But every year Mandy says to me, “You always made Christmas so great, Mom. I miss when I used to believe.”

And I tell her someday, when she has a child of her own, she can revive the magic all over again.


"Christmas--that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved." -Augusta E. Rundel

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Landscape in Black and White

So here I am in another frenzied phase at work, and I haven’t had much time to post or visit my friends’ blogs. But when I saw the most recent challenge over at The Round Robin Photo Challenges, Black and White Landscape, I thought, “Well I can do that!”

I’ve made it a point to get out with my camera on the weekends these past few months. The fresh air does me good. I am a solo adventurer, of course, because my daughter is often off with friends and my husband works weekends.

At first it feels a little lonely as I get out of my car, gear up, and head up a trail. But in no time I am immersed in the sights and smells around me, and photographic opportunities abound. Soon I begin thinking, “It’s a good thing I’m alone because I could drive someone crazy, stopping so much to take pictures.”

Plus, I end up taking especially lengthy hikes when I’m unaccompanied. Freedom to do what I want...

Of course, my family worries about me while I’m off gallivanting. My daughter will call and check on me. My husband will call ten times as much. But why? I could run into a psycho on the street or in the mall much easier than I could out on the trail.

A recent phone call sounded something like this:

“Where are you?”

“Sam’s Point.”

“Where’s that?”


“Where’s that??”

“Remember when we took that really long motorcycle ride?"


"We passed it.”

“Who are you with?”

“No one.”

“So someone could just jump out of the bushes and grab you.”

“Well that would be impossible, since I haven’t seen another human being in about 2 hours!”

(Ooops! Wrong thing to say…)

But hey, long hikes alone make for great shots. Here are a few I’ve taken recently. I think translating them into black and white gives a completely different feel…

These are from Sam's Point Preserve:

The area is home to one of the best examples of ridgetop dwarf pine barrens in the world:

From the 1920's until the 1960's, the area was home to a home to a thriving summertime industry of huckleberry pickers. Some of their shacks still remain...

Another recent excursion was to Olana, a Persian influenced home built between 1870 and 1891 by Frederic Church, a major figure in the Hudson River School of landscape painting:

Not a lengthy hike, but a lovely drive. This is a pond on the grounds...

I will be back soon with a Christmas-inspired post, and I will try to make my rounds and visit you all...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Thank You, Uncle Happy

At dawn on December 7, 1941, naval aviation forces of the Empire of Japan launched a military strike on the United States Pacific Fleet center at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the U.S. full-force into World War II.

Pearl Harbor Day always makes me think of my grandfather, even though he wasn’t there.

Seventeen years earlier, two young boys were playing in a small yard behind a small house in a small town in the suburbs of New York City. Anthony, who everyone called Happy, was 9 years old at the time, and he was keeping an eye on his three-year-old brother Joe (my grandfather).

As many 9 year olds do, Happy fancied himself a very grown-up boy. A responsible boy - almost a man. And as such, he decided to demonstrate his manly prowess by chopping some wood like his father or his big brother Tom would do.

There was an ax in the cellar.

Joe looked up to his big brother and followed him closely, tethered with the invisible twine of wonderous admiration. He followed him to the cellar, where the ax leaned against the cool damp stones of the basement wall. With the mighty instrument in hand, Happy headed out to the wood pile with little Joe in tow.

“Here Joe, hold this wood up for me.”

Happy lifted the ax up above his head and quickly realized that it was much too heavy for him to handle. But as he was already committed to the swing, he brought the menacing blade down and landed it on the wood with a deep thud. Almost right where he wanted it.


He had chopped off half of little Joe’s small, dirty, three-year old ring finger on his right hand. Blood was spurting in every direction.

Joe ran into the house crying and shaking the source of his pain. The blood splattered this way and that as the little hand shook and little Joe cried.

Their mother was screaming as she tried to figure out where on his blood-covered body Joe was hurt. When she finally found the wound, she quickly wrapped his hand in rags and took him on the Charlie cars to Dr. Brooks in town. The doctor sewed up what was left of the finger, just below where there should have been a knuckle, and it healed just fine.


But it was still a bit sensitive as Joe sat in the back of a Chevrolet Coupe, heading to New York City with a group of buddies to sign up for the Navy. He was 19 years old.

They found the enlistment office easily enough, and they got their physicals and completed their written tests.

But just as Joe took the pen in his right hand to sign his name on the dotted line, officially enlisting in the United States Navy, the registrar said, “Whoa! Wait a minute – don’t sign. You’d better go back home and get your other half a finger first.”

Joe and his buddies had planned to sign up together and stick together. But since the Navy turned Joe down, none of the other guys joined either. They all piled back into the Coupe and drove home.

Looking back, my grandfather thought maybe that man had saved his life. It was 1939, and he probably would have been sent to Pearl Harbor for four years of training.


Joe lived with a friend in Connecticut for the next two years. He worked at a foundry with steam presses and molds, making rubber gears for airplanes.

In 1941 he had his appendix taken out. He was on sick leave from work for 6 months after his operation, so he came back to New York during that time. And that’s when he met my grandmother.

But the news of Pearl Harbor inspired the nation to action. “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory” President Roosevelt told the citizens of the United States. So early in 1942, Joe was on his way to military training in Camp Wheeler, Georgia. I guess the Army wasn’t as concerned about that stubby ring finger, especially now that the country was at war.

After training he got his shots, he got his teeth and eyes checked, and was sent up to New York Harbor. On February 8, 1943, my grandfather boarded a ship to go to war. He served in the Signal Corps in North Africa and Italy until the war finally ended in 1945.


President Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 "… a date which will live in infamy." 2,333 lost their lives, another 1,139 were wounded, and Americans’ commitment to isolationism was cast aside as they entered the war with fierce determination.
I have nothing but gratitude and respect for all of those who have served our country, and for those who continue to serve today.

But on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I always end up thinking about my grandfather, and the stories he told me of his service in the European Theater Operation.

I also think about chance and fate.

Our paths through life are directed and redirected by both decisions and accidents, and maybe even forces unseen. So many maybes, so many “what ifs”…

What if my grandfather had enlisted in the Navy and gone off to Hawaii for training? Maybe he would have been one of the casualties of that fateful day. Or maybe he wouldn’t have.

But maybe if he’d join the Navy in 1939 he wouldn’t have met my grandmother and started the chain reaction that resulted in me.

Or maybe if he didn’t get appendicitis he wouldn’t have come back to New York and met my grandmother and started the chain reaction that resulted in me.

Maybe I’m here today because 83 years ago my great-uncle Happy chopped off my grandfather’s finger with an ax.
Or maybe I would have happened anyway....

“There is no such thing as chance; and what seems to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.” Friedrich von Schiller