THOUGHT FOR THE DAY!
YOUR RANDOM DHS MONITORED PHRASE OF THE DAY
The True Story Of The Secret Christmas Miracle!
My 8th Christmas, like the 7 before it, was spent in the rural Farmlands of New Hampshire just north of the state capital of Concord. Our little town of Loudon, long ago bypassed by the new turnpike, remained locked in a small but comfortable time warp away from the hustle of the more modern times that surrounded us. Each winter, we lived the Christmases that Normal Rockwell painted and Currier & Ives printed.
Wintertime, by and large, was a wonderful time for adventurous boys. Unlike the rest of the year filled with hard dirt and stone, the winterscape is malleable, subject to the will and direction of 8 year old hands that lost no time in the construction of snow men, snow women, snow dogs, igloos, and the inevitable snow forts from which to launch that most safest and humane of warfare against the similar edifice in the neighboring yard.
I had, just the preceding year, learned the joys of tying a long thread to the eaves just outside my 2nd floor bedroom window in order to stimulate the growth of an exceptionally long icicle that quickly reached all the way to the ground below, much to the astonishment of my parents. I had prudently omitted informing them of my authorship of said icicle, as its springtime collapse had, with the loudest of commotion, broken a clapboard on the side of the house.
This 8th Christmas, however, was my first in which I was starting to form my own ideas about the world around me. I had only just a few months ago been severely chastised by my Sunday School teacher for asking an impertinent question regarding the origin of Cain's wife, and why, if the deity was so all powerful, had our Sunday school class been banished from the church to the town's fire house!
These events and more had led me to realize that things in the world were not always what they seem, and I had begun that inevitable evolution where I began to rely far less on what the grownups were telling me and more on my own good senses.
I suppose the trouble all started when we went into Concord to go Christmas shopping. I had a total of $5, laboriously saved up that entire autumn of odd jobs and allowance, and even though $5 went a great deal further in those days, my spirited hunt for "the perfect gift" (plus a candy bar to sustain my labors) soon exhausted my supply of cash. Only slightly troubled by the ratio of time-to-earn versus time-to-spend, I followed along behind my mother and aunt from store to store, so carrying my gift wrapped trophies that they were sure to be noticed and admired by passers by. I was a real person; I could buy stuff!
Earlier in the day's shopping, while muttering something about, "getting it over with", the adults had seen fit to take us small ones to see Santa Claus, who apparently unconcerned with the imminent deadline at the end of the month, was holding court in the middle of a department store with some girls dressed as elves and a very unpleasant man with a large camera and flash bulbs that left large blue dots in my eyes. My first question to Santa Claus was why he didn't remember who I was. After all, I had written a letter to Santa Claus care of Manchester TV channel 9, and Santa (who on TV looked and sounded a lot like Uncle Gus, who hosted the 4PM Popeye cartoon theater in the non-Christmas months) had actually read my letter RIGHT ON THE TV and sent me a whiffle bat and ball as a reward. That a whiffle bat and ball had not been on my letter was, of course, of secondary importance. I was famous for a day.
It was about this time that I began to notice that the Santa on who's lap I was sitting didn't look at all like the host of the Popeye show at Manchester TV 9. More importantly, my 8 year old nose picked up the scent of the same whiskey that my Grandfather used to indulge in.
I recall departing that Santa's lap in a great deal of haste, my senses alerted to the fact that something very weird was going on around me. Like an animal at night that hears a twig snap, I was all eyes and ears and in such a state, it was not long before the presence of multiple instances of red suits and fake beards forced past all my pre-conceptions and indoctrinations about Santa-ness the reality that there were more than just one! Equally horrific, inasmuch as it was my own parents who had informed me of the supposed solitary nature of the Lord of the North Pole, it was obvious that they too were unaware of the truth, or worse, part of the conspiracy!
Over the next several days, my brow was furrowed with the implications of my discovery (or rather my brow would have been furrowed had I been older than 8 and had a brow capable of being furrowed). Upon sober reflection (something I was convinced that the department store Santa was incapable of) it seemed that the North Pole was an odd place for a toy shop. It troubled me little that Admiral Byrd hadn't seen Santa's shop when he visited the north pole. I just assumed that Byrd had made a mistake and been slightly off course (which eventually turned out to have been the case). But it did concern me that Byrd had never reported any trees, an item which my Grandfather had informed me was the mandatory first material in the making of just about anything my Grandfather cared to make. I decided that were I Santa, I would have built my shop at the South Pole, which at least had land underneath all the snow, plus sunlight with which to take off and land with during Christmas time!
I had also begun to notice an odd behavior in my older cousins; a certain smugness of manner when I asked a few exploratory questions as to what they knew of Santa.
My mother, who tended to be alarmed more by my periods of silence than by my noise, asked what was troubling me. Unwilling to risk ridicule over what I was really thinking about, I told her I had a toothache. One trip to the dentist later, I had learned that the pondering of life's "great questions" is best done out of sight of ones parents.
However, even as the Novocain wore off, I resolved to put to the test the popular assumption of a single lone elf, with point of origin the far north, able to circumnavigate the globe in a single night.
Having been so recently maltreated by my Sunday school merely for asking a question inspired a certain caution in my approach to this problem. One does not challenge the gods of childhood lightly, even if they do manifest as department store drunks. Thus it was that I decided to apply the "scientific method" which my father had so laboriously tutored me in and in which I had already learned to place a great deal of trust.
Using my father's K&E slide rule, I performed a simple thought experiment. I started out by assuming that Santa, by virtue of long years of practice, was able to do what he had to do to a single home in just 1 second. For the purposes of keeping things simple I ignored transit time from house to house. After all, everyone knew that reindeer were magic. It was a safe assumption that there were very, very, very, fast and I was still far from the domain where relativity would have a noticeable effect, even had I then understood what relativity meant.
A phone call to my Uncle Lawrence (who was a New Hampshire state legislator and had license plates on his car that let him ignore the toll booths which I thought was neat) gave me the approximate population of the country. It was a simple matter to multiply that number of households by 1 second each to see whether it could be done in a single night.
Half an hour later, I had repeated the same calculation more than a dozen times, and had come to the same unyielding answer a dozen times. Spending just 1 second at every home, it would take Santa Claus over a YEAR to visit every home in the United States.
No adult can imagine the disillusionment felt by an 8 year old who, by his own hand, has destroyed the reality of Santa Claus. Adults are used to disillusionments and lies, children are not. It is devastating to an 8-year old!
Santa Claus was a conspiracy! One in which virtually the entire world (over the age of 8) was complicit! It involved my parents, my relatives, the drunk in the department store, and even Uncle Gus, host of the 4PM Popeye cartoon theater over at Manchester TV channel 9!
I now knew who had been the true benefactors of my life each of the preceding December 25ths. I felt most embarrassed that my expressions of gratitude had been so misdirected at a mythical elf when the true givers had been standing so close at hand.
What to do with my discovery!
Sometime later, while nursing a black eye and a bloody nose, I pondered on the fact that most people, if there is a brand new bicycle tied to it, will prefer to go along with a lie and will oppose (often violently) the truth, even if it is backed up by a K&E slide rule and 12 matching sets of calculations (fully documented). This was the final disillusionment in a day of disillusionments. The sun set that night on a very different world from the one it had risen on. Santa had been the last of childhood's mythological pantheon to be discredited. I lived in a world devoid of any real magic whatsoever.
The next morning, real magic had happened!
The town of Loudon awoke to a genuine, sure fire, bona fide, honest to goodness, totally without explanation, Christmas miracle!
During the night, the entire town had been decorated in tinsel! Not the thin and crinkled lead foil kind then being sold in the stores for use on trees, this tinsel was long and smooth and shiny beyond belief. It was fire and ice and lightening and star light all wrapped up in the strange thin ribbons that looped and twisted and fluttered as far as the eye could see.
It shone in the sun with a splendor that was unimaginable as by ones and twos and threes, the townsfolk wandered outside to stand and gaze in awe at the spectacle.
The fiery ribbons were everywhere. They hung from the trees, telephone wires, the church steeple, this year's unusually long icicle outside my window, even the antenna on mom's Buick. No building, no fixture, no tree, had escaped their touch. Every building was a palace, the entire town a festival of light, and all surrounded by a forest of Christmas trees. The tinsel draped across the swing sets and jungle-gym at the schoolyard. Even the school bus sported a new crown of the strange ribbons. The precipitous positions occupied by many of the exotic streamers ruled out placement by human hand. That they had come from the sky was obvious to all.
Each breeze that blew sent a wave of sparkles across the town, so dazzling it hurt the eyes to look at it too long.
From the wonderment etched on the faces of the grownups, it was plain that they were as amazed and puzzled as us small ones. The town had a mystery, a riddle, a conundrum to tantalize the very soul! The like had never been seen before by anybody. My crushing disappointment over the non-reality of Santa of just a day before was lost in the face of this new and quite demonstrably real magic in our midst.
Several phone calls later, it had become apparent that no other town had been so visited during the night. More phone calls to the state and federal government proved fruitless. Nobody knew what the stuff was or where it had come from. The local military could offer nothing beyond assurances that it was not an attack by the Commies using a hideous new weapon.
Word spread quickly and by lunchtime, folks from neighboring towns were driving by to see the sight. There was even a photographer from the Concord Daily Monitor who took pictures that were on the front page of the newspaper. Our town had been the only town in the entire state (or anywhere else that anyone was aware of) to have been so visited, and we took a deep and measureless, if perhaps unwarranted, pride in that fact.
The Loudon Volunteer Fire Department (for whom my mother drove the pump truck) determined to their satisfaction that whatever the tinsel was made of, it did not appear to represent an immediate threat to public safety. This announcement came several hours after we children determined, by the most direct method possible, that the magical stuff was quite harmless and a great deal of fun.
As the ground itself was generously littered with the ribbons, we began an eager harvest, and the tinsel began to integrate itself into our Christmas.
The following Sunday, the minister at the church sermonized on the miracle. Things without explanation are always ascribed to a convenient deity, especially things without explanation on the front page of the Concord Daily Monitor.
The local farmers, this being the dead of winter, had ample time to sit at the general store (which also served as the post office) and speculate on the possible impact that this manifestation might have on next year's crops. The town council, again this being the dead of winter, had ample time to sit at the Grange Hall (which doubled as the mayor's office and on Wednesday nights the Bingo Parlor) and discuss whether there might be a commercial value to the stuff, once it was figured out just what it was.
The science teacher at the school was therefore granted a commission to undertake the scientific analysis of the material. Carefully, a single specimen was captured in the wilds of the Maynard's barnyard and placed carefully across the stage of a microscope at the Loudon Elementary School. The endeavor proved useless when the only thing that could be seen in the smoothly reflective surface was the barrel of the microscope being reflected back. The conclusion of the research was that the ribbons were "sort of like" plastic, only shiny "sort of like" metal. There did not seem to be much commercial potential in just one town's load of the stuff. The commission was therefore withdrawn, and aside from the increased business at the town gas station and the appearance of roadside stands peddling the strange streamers to tourists, the tinsel was deemed to be likely more of a nuisance in the long run than it was worth.
To us children, little concerned with commercial potential, the fascinating ribbons were a prize of great value. Indeed almost priceless. Had their not been such a surplus in the first place, accusations of hoarding would have accompanied some of the more enthusiastic of collectors.
Over time, the more astute observers noted a strange migration, as filaments ceased adorning less decorous (and more accessible) points around town and began to appear on the more traditional Christmas trees inside our homes. The tinsel began to attach itself around the pigtails of the more fashion conscious (or at least the more attention-getting) young girls as they skated around the ice pond, accenting each turn and twist of the head with a shower of sunlit sparks.
Folks quickly discovered that they had a free source for ribbons with which to wrap their Christmas presents and soon there was not a gift to be seen in the town that did not have that special and magical flash of light about it, much to the annoyance of the proprietor of the general store, who had nothing in his inventory of ordinary Christmas ribbons that could compete.
Not to be outdone by the young girls and their pigtails, the young boys around town wove the tinsel around and through the spokes of their bicycle wheels, and tied streamers of it to their handlebars and seats, such that they resembled a fiery comet as they whizzed by at top speed, and even the most conservative and staid grownup had to admit that the ostentatious and gaudy display was likely to keep said bicycler in the eye of all drivers and therefore much safer.
Christmas came and went. Uncle Gus went back to being the host of the 4PM Popeye cartoon theater at Manchester TV channel 9, and successive snowstorms began to obliterate the tinsel from view until the spring thaws washed it into the streets where it finally did become the nuisance the town council had predicted, and it was shoveled up and sent to the town dump. The tinsel faded from everyone's memory, revived only when an occasional strand was found to be woven into a bird's nest, or tied to the tail of a kite.
Of course, nothing happens in this world without a real explanation, even if that explanation is concealed. On my journey into adulthood I have come to understand that our government keeps many secrets from the people and for a time, such was the case with the tinsel. Eventually the government admitted that an Air Force bomber, on it's way out to sea to test a secret radar jamming system, had accidentally disgorged a ton of aluminized Mylar chaff over our town. Thus was created our Christmas miracle.
The point of this story isn't that miracles don't happen. Because whatever the cause, one did happen to the town of Loudon, New Hampshire in that winter so many years ago. It brought joy and excitement to all who partook of it, and it didn't explain itself and it asked for nothing in return. It was, as are all true miracles, indifferent to those around it, even as it changed their lives.
For one magic season, we were all regardless of age children again, fresh with the joy of discovery; confronted by something strange and new. Nobody was keeping a secret from the "little ones". Nobody was smug. Nobody was heavily invested in maintaining a fiction. In short, nobody was doing any of the things which, regardless of how benign the motive might be, tend to drive people apart in this season when we are supposed to pull closer together. Everyone was equal in the face of the strange tinsel, and it brought the whole town just a little bit closer together in the spirit of that shared adventure. The townspeople didn't need to manufacture wonderment, either for themselves or for their children. It was there for the taking, free of charge.
The lesson I have carried with me since that time is to never get so wrapped up in the expectations and demands of the season that I am blinded to the chance opportunities and small miracles that the world seems to produce on a regular interval, and which sadly, too many people seem to miss. That these miracles will not be as obvious as the one which graced our town is true. That they will still be there is likewise also true, if one has but the eyes to see them.
Happy Holidays to all!