Stories from Long Ago

Boston Globe Santa 1967

“Mom will love this.” My nine-year-old sister Judy said as she folded another newspaper. “ It’s pretty easy, but we must do it soon, so it’s in the paper before Christmas.”

She pushed The Boston Globe in my face. I read the tragedies suffered by children in Boston who never had Santa come to their homes. As a believer, I needed clarification. Shouldn’t these be the kids Santa delivers presents to first? Why would we send money to the Boston Globe Santa?

“I don’t understand why Santa wouldn’t go to poor kids,” I said as I read the story that would crush a believer in Santa. But, still firm in my belief, I continued questioning, “ I mean, shouldn’t he go to their houses first?”

Sitting on the front porch of our two-family home, my older cousins David, Donald, and Steven laughed. Tommy and Jimmy continued folding. It was early morning, and there were lots of papers to be delivered before we left for school.

“Hey, Hairyjo, I’m the real Santa,” my cousin David said. “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

I hated it when David called me Hairyjo. He seemed to revel in his torture.

“ My papers are folded. I’m starting my delivery,” my always diligent cousin, Jimmy, said, letting us know the conversation was over.

After the boys left on their routes, Judy continued her plea for the Globe Santa gift. “We’re getting a Nickel by helping fold papers; we both have babysitting money.  I’m sure the other kids may have some money. So let’s do it.”

When Judy was in a passionate state, nothing would dissuade her. Why argue or ask questions? I knew we were doing this. Still, I wondered if this was true, would our mother love this gift? I saw a Rudolph pin at the Five and Ten that I was sure she would like better.

After the newspaper folding, we changed quickly for school. As we walked the few short blocks to Crosby school, Judy shared her plan with my younger siblings Lee Anne who was seven, and five-year-old Michelle.” We’re donating to the Boston Globe’s Santa as a Christmas gift for Mom,” she said. The authoritative tone in her voice let us know this was happening. “Get all your money together and meet me under the back porch when we get home.”

“I don’t have any money,” Michelle said as she dropped a mitten into a puddle. “I’m making a Christmas ornament for her. Why will she like doughnuts from the Boston Globe?”

“It’s not a doughnut,” Judi said, sighing. Then, handing Michelle her soggy mitten, she continued, “just like look in the couch cushions or for pennies on the playground.”

Lee, like usual, did what Judy told her. “I think I have some money. Jill must have some. She and Cindy can get lots of things from people,” Lee said.

“Good idea,” Judi said. “We’ll bring her to the meeting.”

Jill, our four-year-old sister, wasn’t old enough to attend school. So she and our cousin Cindy who was also four, would trade unsuspecting neighborhood kids' old mail and bottle caps from Al’s convenience store for new toys. They were masters at the art of manipulation.

After school, we looked through the couch cushions for change. Of course, Jill found a few pennies and a quarter. We each changed into play clothes, grabbed a Scooter Pie, and met under the back porch.

Judy was busily writing on a piece of yellow-lined paper she borrowed from school. She was in a zone, not looking up, not asking questions, just writing.

I started collecting the money each kid brought to contribute to “Mom’s best present ever.” Jill had a Sucrets’ tin that she found in the trash. Inside was at least fifteen pennies and a quarter, much more than the rest of us. It was hard for her to give up that much money.

“I’ll give you the Sucrets’ box and the pennies,” Jill said.  “But I’m keeping the quarter.”

“Come on, Jill,” Judy said as she finished the letter, “I know this will be Mom’s best present. The more money we send, the happier she’ll be.”

“You loser,” Michelle added. “ I’m gonna tell Mom you didn’t put in anything. Don’t put her name on it.”

“Shut up, Michelle!” Jill yelled as she hit her with the Sucrets box.

“Both of you cut it out,” I said as I grabbed the Sucrets box. “I thought about this all day. Mom is always talking about helping poor kids, and so is Dad. I think it would make them happy to know we are helping. I also think Mom would like a Rudolph pin I saw at the Five and Ten for ten cents. Maybe we could do both?”

Judy sighed, “Lee could you make a Rudolph pin?”

“Maybe I could,” Lee said, “but it wouldn’t look like the one at the store.”

“I’m sending the money,” Judy said. “Give me the Sucrets box. Put whatever money you have in here.”

I put in the babysitting money I got from babysitting Suc Chung and my newspaper money. Judy put in a bunch. Lee and Michelle added to the pile. Lee had money from finding golf balls for our grandfather, Pa. Michelle probably took pennies from dad’s penny jar. Jill hesitated. The pennies she had were already in the Sucrets box.

“So you’re not adding the quarter?” Michelle said as she gave Jill a little pinch.

“I gave a bunch of money,” Jill said, pinching Michelle back. “I gave more than you, loser.”

“How much is in there?” Judy asked. “I have to tell the Globe Santa how much money we’re giving.”

I dumped the money on a flat rock and began counting. There was a total of three dollars and eighty-one cents. I handed the Sucrets box back to Judy, and she began recounting.

“I can count money,” I said.

“We have to be sure to put the right amount in our letter,” Judy said, not looking up from the change she was counting.

“Yup,” she said. “There are three dollars and eighty-one cents.”

“I told you that,” I said.

Judy began reading the letter she had written to the rest of us.

Dear Globe Santa,

We are sending this donation of $3.81 for our mother, Mary Pardis’s Christmas Present. Judy, Maryjo, LeeAnne, Michelle, and Jill from Arlington.

“That sounds good,” we all agreed.

Judy had an envelope already addressed to The Globe Santa. It even had a stamp on it. So she carefully put the Sucrets box and the letter in the envelope. She pulled out a roll of Scotch Tape from her coat pocket and taped up the envelope to be sure the money wouldn’t fall out.

“I’ll tell Mom we’re going to the Playground,” I said as I bounded up the stairs. We can put the letter in the mailbox near Al’s.”

“Mom, we’re going to the Crosby Playground !” I yelled, opening the backdoor. I could hear The Edge of Night playing on the tv in the living room, so I knew yelling from the kitchen made the most sense.

“ Take the little kids with you!” she yelled back, “and keep your eyes on them. Don’t let Michelle wander off. Be home as soon as the street lights come on! I’m going to need help getting ready for dinner.”

“Okay, bye,” I said as I slammed the door.

“Let’s go,” I said, grabbing Michelle and Jill by the hands. “You two have to stay with me. Michelle, I don’t want you running after any dogs. The last time you did, I was in a lot of trouble. We’re not tied together and have important work to do.”

“Can you push me on the swing?” Jill asked, pulling the hood of her fury yellow coat onto her head.

“ I want to be pushed on the swings, too,” Michelle said.

“Judy, LeeAnne, and I will push you guys, but we have to get the letter in the mailbox,” I said as I pulled them closer to Judy and LeeAnne.

“Wait up!” I yelled as LeeAnne and Judy approached the mailbox.

They turned around and waited as they were very close to Al’s. We were just crossing Grafton Street. So they were about a block ahead.

Jill said as we approached Al’s, “Can’t we take a few pennies from the Sucret’s box and buy some bubble gum?”

Michelle nodded her head in agreement. LeeAnne, Judy, and I couldn’t believe they would think this.

“The money is in the envelope,” Judy said, waving the envelope all around. “We even put tape on it so it would be sure to stay safe.”

“Can we at least get some bottle caps?” Jill pleaded.

“Let’s just put this in the mailbox first,” Judy said, opening the mailbox and placing our letter inside.

Once the letter was in the mailbox, each of us jiggled the mailbox opener to be sure it was in all the way. We had to be sure the letter got to the Boston Globe.

Jill let go of my hand and ran inside Al’s. I chased after her, still holding Michelle’s hand.

“Hi, Al,” Jill said as she pulled her mitten off. She proceeded to put her hand inside the bottle cap holder on the side of the coke chest.

“What brings you in today?” Al asked us. “Does your Mom need bread?”

“Nope, Jill needed bottle caps,” I said.

“I want some, too,”  Michelle said.

“I think there’s enough for all of you to have some,” Al said, smiling. “Not many kids have been in today for a bottle cap.”

We each took a handful of bottle caps, thanked Al, and left for the playground.

The Crosby playground was a short walk from Al’s down Winter Street.  Some of the Columbo kids were playing outside.

“We’re going to the playground. Do you want to meet us there?” Judy asked her friends, the twins Donna and Dorothy.

“No thanks, we have to watch the little kids while Mom, Linda, and Maria are making dinner,” Donna said as she tried holding onto three boys under six.”It’s easier to keep them contained in our yard.”

Dorothy was chasing a couple of kids into their backyard. “See you at school tomorrow!” She yelled without looking back.

“See you tomorrow! Have fun!” We yelled back.

We got to the playground. Michelle and Jill ran to the swings. Judy, LeeAnne, and I ran after them. Fortunately, there were two open little kid swings. So I pushed Michelle and LeeAnne, and Judy pushed Jill.

Getting sick of pushing, we noticed Timmy, who was always rude, pushing his sister, Teresa, on the merry-go-round.

We took Michelle and Jill off the swings and ran to the round metal merry-go-round. It was spinning so fast that it was impossible to slow down.

“Hey, can we have a turn?” I asked, hoping Timmy would say yes, but knowing he’d say no.

“I’m not pushing you, weirdos,” Timmy said as he pushed his sister faster.

“Stop! Stop! Timmy!” Teresa yelled!

He laughed and pushed her faster. Teresa continued screaming as we noticed the street lights had come on. Because it was December, they came on earlier and earlier.

We walked the three short blocks to Everett Street, listening to Judy promise what would happen if we said anything about Globe Santa. Well, it was her idea, and she couldn’t wait to see the surprise on Mom’s face when she read our surprise in the paper.

Suddenly, she looked panicked. “What if Mom doesn’t read that part of the paper? How can we get her to read it?”

“We can just tell her to read it,” I said.

“That’s a stupid idea,” Judy said. “ If you tell her to read it, she’ll probably guess.

“ I’ll just try and read it before she does,” she said confidently. “I can read it after school when we’re folding the papers. You’ll have to fold faster for a few days until it shows up.”

The next day we met the upstairs cousins on the porch to fold the papers. Judy began reading the Globe Santa pages, and I folded faster.

“Why are you reading when we need all these papers folded,” Stephen asked. “We made a donation for my mother to the Globe Santa,” Judy said.

“That’s a great idea,” Donald reassured her. “She’ll love that.”

“Hey, Jude, we’re paying you a decent amount of money to fold, not to read,” David said. “You’re going to have to read it some other time.”

“I don’t want her to see it. I want to give it to her special,” Judy said. “Besides, Maryjo is folding faster.

“Well, HairyJo ain’t folding as fast as both of you can,” David said. “If you don’t want the job, we can get someone else.”

The other kids looked at David and then at Judy. Judy looked like she was going to cry, but she didn’t.

“Can’t you read your mom’s paper before she does?” Donald asked. “You’re a fast reader, and you just have to read the Secret Santa pages.

“That might work,” I said. “Just tell mom you have to read the paper for homework. LeeAnne and I could cover you for the before-dinner chores. Mom doesn’t read the paper until Dad does bath and prayers.”

Judy thought for a minute, “I guess that would work.”

For the next two weeks, Judy tried scanning the Globe Santa pages. We folded papers after school from 3:00 until 3:30. Judy brought in Mom’s paper and looked through it quickly before giving it to Mom.

One week went by, then two. Finally, we all started to panic. What if our donation was lost in the mail?

About a week before Christmas, Father Jack came home from the Viet Nam War. He was a priest and my dad’s best friend. He seemed to be Mom’s best friend, too. He surprised us because we didn’t know he would be home.

We all hugged him, knowing he would have something for us. He usually had some Avon perfume or lipgloss that his mother sold. It was starting to get dark, and he had a great plan.

“Let’s drive around and look at the Christmas lights,” Father Jack said, knowing we would love the idea.

“Oh, Father Jack, I still have to make dinner,” my mother said, “and John will be home soon.”

“Come on, Mary,” Father Jack said, “dinner will be my treat tonight. I haven’t seen my girls in a long time.”

Before Mom could say anything, we had our coats on and headed to Father Jack’s car. Judy brought the newspaper with her. Jill sat in the front seat between Mom and Father Jack because she was the smallest. Judy, Lee, Michell, and I climbed into the backseat. Judy sat near a window so she could read better.

Judy continued to read as we drove through the streets of Arlington, singing Christmas Carols while oohing and ahhing about the lights. Finally, father Jack stopped at the Stop & Shop. He and Mom ran into the store.  We stayed in the car waiting for them.

“I found it!” Judy yelled as she showed us the small line in the Globe that read:

For our mother, Mary Pardis’s Christmas Present. Judy, Maryjo, LeeAnne, Michelle, and Jill from Arlington. $3.81

We were so excited we began yelling, “Hooray!” as we hugged each other. Judy took out the page and carefully folded it, placing it in her pocket.

“Okay, get back to normal quickly,” Judy said. “Here they come.”

Lee made a little box out of construction paper. We cut out the line from Globe Santa containing our present and placed it carefully in the box. We hid it under Judy’s bed unit Christmas morning.

Christmas was fantastic that year. There were piles of presents from Santa on the couch, the chair, and the floor. We must have been excellent because everyone got what they asked for. We got our parents their presents when we finished eating the candy from our stockings.

Most of us made something at school, lots of handmade ornaments they put on the tree. Dad opened his present first, some new handkerchiefs and a pair of socks.

Finally, we handed Mom her present. I was nervous because I didn’t know how she would react.

Mom opened the little box, read the newspaper clipping, and started crying.

“See, I told you we should have bought the Rudolph pin,” I said.

“Come here,” Mom said through her tears. She hugged and kissed each of us and said, “this is the best present I have ever received. You, kids, are the best.”