I’m Trying To Be Good

A heat wave this morning. 20 degrees Farenheit. 40 degrees above the -20 yesterday. Our deepest snows were in late October. Since then, we’ve had a couple of inches here and there. Just as the snow begins to look tired, Nature slaps on a topcoat. Given the freezing temperatures, the snow sparkles like white mica. Snow blindness is a possibility: sunglasses are a must. As is a balaclava. A hat and scarf just don’t cut it. The wind Novocains my nose.

Annually, our local paper, The Wet Mountain Tribune prints a number of letters to Santa. This year I was struck by the number of children who wrote “I’ve tried to be good.” That resonated with me. I try. Most of the people I know try to be good. Surely trying to be good should be worth some small reward. In fact, perhaps the trying (which suggests attempting but not actually achieving) should actually win a greater reward because those who fail to meet their own expectations also fail to grasp the gold ring on the merry-go-round.

Apparently, Ms. Pinnella, the children’s first grade teacher, suggested that in keeping with the strictures of etiquette, social correspondence should engage the intended recipient with a question. The children’s questions are wonderful.

Why do you come at night… Why do you come down the chimney – Why don’t you come through the door… How’s your wife – is she OK… Why do you live at the North Pole… How do your reindeer fly… and my favorite… Are you magic?

“Are you magic?” reminds me of the classic, 1897 letter written by Virginia O’Hanlon to the editor of The New York Sun. She asked if Santa was real. The editor’s response was titled, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

In part, Francis Pharcellus Church wrote: ” You may tear apart a baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man [ … ] could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love and romance can push aside that curtain. [ …] Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”

Even if you are familiar the piece, I recommend re-reading the editorial in its entirety at http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/

I have any number of Christmas remembrances, but one of my favorite TimeOut columns ran in the Tribune on Dec 13, 2001:

When the editor gave me the annual “Shop in Town” assignment, little did he know that I came to the task with shopping credentials.

I have trained with the best. Some 30 years ago, I was the personal shopper for the G. Fox department store in Hartford, Connecticut.

The store’s creed was “If we don’t have it, we’ll get it.” As the personal shopper, I received daily phone calls and letters because everyone in New England knew that G. Fox was true to its word.

A typical letter might read: “Dear Jean,” (Personal shoppers came and went, but Jean Sawyer was a constant.) “I am now living in Iowa, but some eight years ago I bought a pair of silk-lined Moroccan leather gloves made in Brazil…”

In keeping with store policy, if G. Fox no longer carried this glove, I would put on my coat and shop until I found the item. Living on a tight budget myself, I was delighted to receive a call to shop without financial restraints.

“Dear Jean, I am hoping that you have time to shop for my Aunt Myra. She is 87, sharp as a tack and owns everything a person could ever want. I can’t imagine what to buy. I leave it to you. Spend at least a hundred dollars. Use your own judgment. Charge it to my account. Oh… and write her a little note – something sweet.”

I have wonderful memories of G. Fox.

  • Shopping with a blind man who wanted me to choose some lingerie for his wife – “something tasteful but sexy.”
  • Mistakenly sending a lacy, size three teddy meant for the girlfriend to the man’s home address where it was opened by the size 16 wife.

But my best G. Fox Christmas memory was receiving a letter written in an arthritic hand. It came from an elderly woman in Vermont. The envelope held ten, one-dollar bills and a shopping list:

“One box of Christmas cards, one pair of children’s red mittens, one pair of men’s slipper mocs, and a pound of your best coffee.” Unable to shop within her budget, I went to my boss, Mr. Sapienza.

I started my story, and he cut me off. He knew the woman. She was a lifelong customer and “a bit out of touch with today’s prices.”

G. Fox would honor her order. I was to choose the best merchandise, put stamps on her cards, include a box of shortbread cookies, and write a note wishing her a Merry Christmas.

G. Fox, undone by suburban malls and chain stores, has gone out of business, but their generosity lives on in my heart.

Wishing you faith, fancy, poetry and love this holiday season.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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