Welcome Home Santa

December 13, 2018

When the Gardener and I ventured to Kentucky in April, we did not return home alone. Propped up on pillows and covered with a flannel blanket on the big bed in our camper, we carried a hitchhiker, comfortably making his return to Marion, Michigan.

Julie Traynor Postcards from the Pine Columnist

Julie Traynor Postcards from the Pine Columnist

Traditionally our friend and his many partners of all sizes are given to public appearances, seemingly everywhere at once, this time of year. Our hitchhiker’s first job and home was in Marion. He and his many red-clad brothers worked hard to make this time of year merry and bright for every kid in our town. They made appearances in one way or another in all the stores and public places. The red clad fat man’s image was on everything, from the expected candies and toys to the more unconventional snow shovels and cigarette cartons.

For a long time Marion’s head elf in the red suit arrived in town on a fire truck each Saturday in December to greet local kid crowds. During the 1960’s into the early ‘80’s Marion sported a downright huge and impressive representative along M-66 near the Mill Pond all year long. The 20’ Santa spent his time in our town waving to all passers, his green mitten clad hand raised in a permanent wave. Believed to be one of only three in the state, he was a large statement attesting to how we felt about this guy in our town.

Our jolly old hitchhiker came to work at Bernie’s IGA late in 1959, and worked the Christmas season there for several years. He arrived on a Pepsi delivery truck and his first job was to be seen climbing a huge display of said product. To do so he brought along a golden, glittery six foot ladder, with a snowy, glittery base bearing the Pepsi logo. Once in place half way up the ladder, he spent the month of December posing with a 10 oz., glass bottle of Pepsi in his hand and with that familiar jolly old smile on his face.

He was an “Oh! Look! It’s Santa!!” moment for many a small shopper as they came around the corner and upon the Pepsi display.

We are not sure exactly when, or just how, but shortly after our Santa’s arrival an elf of the pointed ear variety arrived at Bernie’s. His job was perhaps in connection with certain green clad, pointed ear elves who like to bake cookies in trees. One sad thing is certain. Because of a rather unfortunate and uncorrected eye issue he has a look which has the tendency to make most children flee in fear. My aunt reasoned that if the elf was placed high enough, no kid would notice. She perched him on Santa’s ladder. They still noticed, as did all the adults who could look him directly in either of his eyes.

Each Christmas Eve our Santa took his ladder, pointed ear elf friend and his enormous stocking and moved to my aunt and uncle’s Sixth Street family room window to celebrate with our family. His stocking was filled with goodies for the Schumacher’s grandchildren. It became a tradition for this Santa to bring the stockings. After the holiday season, he went to slumber in the Schumacher’s basement, keeping company with the aluminum tree and of course the pointed ear elf.

The Schumacher’s moved to Florida in 1970, taking Santa and all the Christmas trappings with them. Our Santa spent a long and happy career impressing Floridians and grandchildren. At some point when the magic waned, all the elves were retired to a storage closet joining the trappings of the old Michigan Christmases. They patiently waited, for just what they did not know. And they waited for a long while. Four years ago Santa and his kin were rescued by the Schumacher’s granddaughter who moved them to Kentucky. Santa received some much needed facial plastic surgery, a spiffing up, and was put to work once again.

The Pepsi Santa can no longer hold a bottle of that beverage...they’ve gotten too large for his old hand to hold!

The Pepsi Santa can no longer hold a bottle of that beverage…they’ve gotten too large for his old hand to hold!

He meant delightful memories to Paula but represented a horror version of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to her grandchildren. Santa’s odd-eyed elf friend didn’t help either. Into retirement they went once again, this time in an attic corner appropriately draped with a Christmas tablecloth. And then we visited Kentucky in April, our 5th wheel in tow….

After nearly fifty years in the sunny south, the Pepsi Santa has returned to the town where he started almost sixty years ago.  We are delighted that he will spend the next phase of his long life with us. Welcome home Santa.

We also wonder if anyone out there ‘of a certain age’ remembers this guy when he worked at Bernie’s IGA? After all, Marion, Michigan has always had a soft spot for, as the poem goes, “A right jolly old elf…” of any age or size.

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