Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yes, Virginia . . .

That's my dad, the Piedmont Santa!

Back in 1897, the New York Sun printed an editorial that should have put to rest, once and for all, the question of whether or not there is a Santa Claus.  Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon was quite concerned about some things her friends had been telling her and her father, probably panicking just a little bit, told her to write the newspaper, because "if you see it in The Sun, it's so."  (Would that we had so much faith in the media today!)  Well, she did, and Francis Pharcellus Church took the reindeer by the horns and, in reassuring Virginia that there was indeed a Santa Claus, he created what has become history's most reprinted editorial.

I wasn't around in 1897 and I'm glad Mr. Church was able to answer Virginia's sincere question.  However, I can vouch for Santa's continued and robust existence in today's increasingly suspicious and cynical world.

Pull up a toy box and listen to the tale.

Long ago and far away, my father was a Navy pilot.  After he left the service and married my mother, he grew restless with his secure, yet somewhat dull, job in the insurance business, which led him to come home one day and proclaim, "Honey, I quit my job.  I want to be an airline pilot!"  There is speculation that my mother may have considered packing up my sister [my brother was on the way and I hadn't even been thought of yet] and retreating to her home state of Virginia until he came to his senses.  Then again, fortune indeed favors the brave, and my dad went out the very next day and got a job with Piedmont Airlines, where he stayed until he retired.

Now, in those days, pilots used a seniority system to bid on the flights they wanted to pilot every month, which meant new hires got the lousiest runs as a way of paying their dues.  Of course, everyone wants the holidays off, so throughout my childhood, we got used to a sort of "moveable feast" approach and celebrated whenever Dad was home, usually somewhere between the 23rd and the 27th.

I come from optimistic, "lemonade from lemons" sort of folk, so sometime around my seventh Christmas, Dad got hold of a cheap Santa suit and beard and began wearing it for his Christmas flights.  It was an instant hit, so he added an after-Christmas shopping trip to load up on discounted toys for the next year and began handing out trinkets from a plastic bag emblazoned with the Piedmont symbol, the "Speedbird."  (You'd be shocked to discover how many kids fly alone over the holidays, usually shuttling from one parent to the other and often traveling lonely and a little scared.  Think about the kids, people - your ex might have hurt you deeply, but put it aside for the children, please!)  When Dad had a little boy run up to him in the airport, hug his leg, and say, "Thanks for the bike!" - well, at that point, we were all in.

The suit was replaced by a higher quality one, the beard and wig were upgraded (yes, my father has his hair styled for the holidays!), and we got a nicer sack for the toys.  Mom even made us elf costumes so we could authentically serve as "Santa's helpers."  By now, Dad had accumulated enough seniority that he could have stayed home on Christmas but, after a family meeting, it was agreed that we'd kind of gotten used to it and Christmas in the airports was part of our family tradition.  So Dad took it to the next level and started going up to a newbie pilot with a young family and taking his (they were all "his" back in the day) flight so he could stay home.  Dad even sent the pay for that trip to the pilot.

Captain Baldy
It didn't end when Dad retired.  Dad turns 80 this December and he still plays Santa all through December.  One of his most meaningful trips is arranged through an organization called Pilots for Kids, whose primary purpose is visiting hospitalized kids.  (That's the PFK mascot, Captain Baldy, over there on the left.)  I've accompanied Dad on this trip, which was dreadfully hard as it involved being cheerful and upbeat while visiting a pediatric oncology ward.  Dad was an absolute brick.  FryDaddy went with Dad this year (my Mom went, too) and he said it was a wonderful experience.

Yep.  Santa's real, folks.

But he doesn't use reindeer - he prefers jets.




1 comment:

sydnecallen said...

He's my favorite Santa. I love Bob Koontz, my "granddaddy." And you, too, Dale.