ONLY 89 DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS
Miracle on 34th Street is arguably the best ever Christmas movie. Early in the film, an indignant Kris Kringle, played by Edmund Gwenn, chides the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade Santa for being drunk on duty. The inebriated Santa was not Charlie Howard. The movie was made in 1947; Charlie was the Macy’s parade Santa from 1948 to 1965.
Even before his Macy’s gig, Charlie was already the most famous and sought after Santa in the nation, having played the jolly old elf since his 4th grade Christmas pageant. He began passing his Santa skills on to other would-be Santas on September 27, 1937, when the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School opened its doors in Albion, NY. The campus was actually Charlie’s home, until in the late 1940s he opened Christmas Park right next door. There fledgling Santas could practice their ho-ho-hos on actual little children.
Now in its 79th year (Charlie Howard died in 1966), the school promises a well-rounded Santa education covering such topics as the history of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, the proper use of the red Santa suit and Santa make-up, working with reindeer, and flying sleigh lessons. Tuition is $475. Students may major in either Santa or Mrs. Santa Claus. But hurry — classes begin in late October.
Aunt Nancy’s Burden, Part 2: Hanging on by a Thread
As the weather grew warmer, Uncle Ed grew to be more of a nuisance to Aunt Nancy. He required daily gurneying to and from the edge of the swimming pool where he would spend sunny days reading the Daily News, doing his crossword puzzles and word searches, and behaving as though Aunt Nancy had nothing more to do in life than his bidding. Her burden, as she now referred to Uncle Ed, continued to cling to life in his stubborn, self-centered way. The doctor who had given him only days to live last fall did, however, die.
Aunts Nancy, Joan and Clara would spend many summer days sitting side by side at the picnic table glowering at Aunt Nancy’s Burden, trying to stare him into dying while discussing the world or at least the part of it that mattered.
“Gwen says she going to marry this Sidney,” said her mother, Joan. This Sidney had been dating Gwen for two years.
“He’s a good provider,” said Aunt Nancy.
“He’s too short,” said Aunt Joan.
“He’s very intelligent,” suggested Aunt Clara.
“He’s Irish,” said Joan, silencing her sisters.
Silence remained until Aunt Nancy’s Burden shouted: “Sure could use a beer.”
As summer progressed, Aunt Nancy’s Burden grew steadily more demanding, and he adopted a rather nasty attitude toward his sisters-in-law — or the harpies of Hancock Street as he now frequently called them. Each time they would arrive to take up their stations at the picnic table, he’d announce their arrival loudly enough for Aunt Nancy to hear from inside the house.
“Oh, oh,” said Uncle Ed as he saw Aunt Clara approaching from the left. “It’s the wicked witch of the west.” Then he turned to see Aunt Joan coming from the other direction. “And — oh my God — the wicked witch of the east. Whatever will we do, Dorothy?”
The sisters murmured a curt hello and sat down at the picnic table where Aunt Nancy joined them.
“I saw Lenore Smith at the A & P yesterday,” said Aunt Clara. “Looks terrible. I think she’s losing her hair.”
“People who are losing their hair shouldn’t go to the A & P,” shuddered Aunt Nancy. “I hope she wasn’t in the produce section.”
“I hear Esther Babbit’s been in the hospital for two weeks now,” said Aunt Joan. “Hanging on by a thread, they say.”
“People shouldn’t hang on by a thread,” said Aunt Clara. “When it’s time to go, they should just go.”
Six eyes turned to stare at Aunt Nancy’s Burden who failed to take the hint. “I’m ready for a beer,” he said.
“Why don’t you put a couple dozen aspirins in it,” Aunt Clara suggested as Aunt Nancy stood up with a sigh. Aunt Joan looked at Aunt Clara, a funny look, and some sort of insight passed between them.