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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


December 19, 2012

Seeking Sugar Plums

Norman M. Covert

The countdown is on ’til Christmas Eve. Santa Claus is scheduled next week to bring toys and all manner of wondrous gifts to good little boys and girls in a "whishing" mission, borne in his reindeer-powered sleigh.

 

One wonders if this is fantasy. I knew the pilot light of Christmas still flickered inside when my 1948 Lionel Steam Locomotive finally got going under our tree Sunday night. I can spend hours watching it chug around the track.

 

We cherish the private hope that Santa Claus (nee, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas) can achieve his improbable task Monday night by spreading tidings of great joy and peace on earth from his sack of goodies.

 

Bah, humbug to the Ebenezer Scrooges. We are beset again this season by the political “ins,” who are dazzled by their own magnificence and who are wont to replace our closely held beliefs with their form of blasphemy.

 

I’m stubborn and believe that we can turn back the assault on all we hold dear. We can recover the magic of the Advent season. The story and celebration of Christ’s birth in a stable endures despite centuries of naysayers.

 

Santa Claus is one of those “necessaries” like Christmas trees, evergreen wreaths and the shoes full of candy in the name of legendary Father Christmas. We may view him through the eyes of 19th century editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast, or through the lifelike magazine covers drawn by the late artist Norman Rockwell.

 

Thomas Nast created the outsized character of St. Nicholas clad in fur, biting his long-stemmed pipe and clutching dolls and other toys. His broad grin topping a visage first described in Clement Clark Moore’s enduring 1822 narrative, “A Visit From St. Nicholas.”

 

Mr. Moore’s narrative said St. Nicholas was dressed in fur, had twinkling eyes, dimples, cheeks like roses, a nose like a cherry; he had a “droll little mouth” and held a pipe in his teeth.

 

He had a broad face and round belly, Mr. Moore continued. He was chubby and plump, his clothes tarnished from the ashes and soot of the fireplace. He had a bundle of toys flung over his shoulder.

 

A storied editorial cartoonist, Mr. Nast was beset by the chaos of the War Between the States in 1862 when he first drew St. Nicholas out of the legend as our Christmas benefactor. There is little doubt Mr. Nast sought to bring some joy out of the horror of that national calamity.

 

What memories arose when we heard the unique radio voice of Kemosabe Joe (Johnson) on WFMD-AM’s “Christmas Cash for Kids” appeal a couple weeks ago.

 

Now with Salisbury’s WTDK-FM, Kemosabe Joe was purveyor of broadcast excellence at Frederick’s former Z104-FM, presenting the magic of radio to Frederick’s “Rock” listeners.

 

He also was a mentor when he suggested we do a weekly, pre-recorded information segment on what was happening at Fort Detrick. It helped remind citizens the post was a part of Frederick City and County.

 

Kemosabe then talked about how we could partner in putting together a “Santa Tracking Report” to be broadcast on Christmas Eve. The North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) once cooperated in a version of tracking Santa.

 

I bought his idea. I recalled legendary radio and motion picture entrepreneur Stan Freberg. He preached the magic of radio and the images which could be generated in the mind of listeners. I loved hearing Freberg drain Lake Michigan; fill it with hot chocolate; top it with whipped cream; and have the Canadian Air Force drop a huge maraschino cherry on top, while 25,000 extras cheered. “Let’s see them do that on television,” he taunted.

 

With the Fort Detrick and East Coast Telecommunication Center commanders’ blessings, we put together actualities using the command center at the international defense satellite facility. We recorded 12 reports to be aired each hour.

 

Kemosabe did his broadcast panel magic and the reports became a regular Christmas Eve feature. After the demise of Z104, we cooperated one year with WFMD.

 

The magic of Christmas and children’s expectations struck me that first year when my daughters heard the reports. They were thrilled to hear Santa had been sighted in the “Catoctin corridor” near Camp David by a helicopter pilot. They recognized the on-scene reporter’s voice, but never let on they knew it was “Dad.”

 

I was not alone as a child having visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. Our tree went up Christmas Eve with Dad spending an interminable amount of time trying to get all the bulbs working. It was wired in “series” in which one bad bulb darkened the entire line. Eventually he got the lights working and on the tree. We placed our stockings on the fake cardboard fireplace and headed off to bed. It was exciting; Santa Claus would finish the decorating.

 

You are encouraged to make an effort to set aside frustrations of the times and recapture, at least for a brief period, that innocent, magical time when you put out the cookies for Santa and the carrots for Rudolph.

 

Aw, go ahead, you know you want to do it.

 

Here’s wishing you visions of sugarplums, the magic of Santa and the joy of Christ’s birth.

 



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