Friday, October 27, 2017

My Two Seasons

Depending upon where one lives, Mother Nature gives us several seasons.  In some areas the traditional summer, fall, winter, spring combination is dominant.  Southern California where I now live has fire, wind, rain, drought, and earthquake seasons in no specific order and with some overlapping with others.  For ten years I lived in Arizona with two main seasons known as hot and hotter.  Occasionally hottest was tossed into the mix just for fun.  Add to that the summer monsoons and one could make a case for the sauna season.

I once made the mistake of visiting Alaska during the mosquito season.  I guess I could have visited during freeze my ass off season.  Several airports in the winter have ice on the runway season.  It has been a while since I lived in Texas, but I remember as a kid melted asphalt season.

I used to hunt in snake season, fish in rough water season, camp in the no fires season, and hike in the bad weather season.  Rarely did I match the right season with the activity I was engaged in. 

Now I divide the year into two major seasons.  There is the Santa season from October 1 through December 31.  The rest of the year is devoted to the Annual Wild Game Feed season.  Yes, there are a few minor seasons within seasons such as Thanksgiving season, Christmas season, my wife’s birthday season, our anniversary season, and a couple of other seasons, but for most of my purposes, the year is divided into just two parts.

The Santa season is actually the entire year since I look like the guy the entire year, but my most active roles as Santa usually start somewhere around October 1.  That’s the date when I start bleaching my gray/white hair to be predominantly white, and I do it every two to three weeks until December 31.  After that I bleach it at about six week intervals unless some film or television roll calls me.  (I tend to get a few of these every year.)  But for the most part, the Santa look never goes away.

The red suits have seen many battles over the years.  I’ve replaced them as needed, and I’m thinking the ones I have now need to be retired.  For three months each year thousands of kids, adults, and other critters sit on my lap.  Most are good customers, but occasionally the red suit gets damaged by candy canes, damp diapers, cell phones in back pockets, and spilled drinks.  I have a great dry cleaner, but even he scratches his head in puzzlement over some of the stains.

Last year was a slow year due to my own illness and recovery in November and December.  Five days in the hospital cut into the numbers some, but I estimate I still managed to visit with over six thousand children and adults.  And no, that wasn’t from working a mall.  I do several public events each year such as tree lightings, and various city events, but the bulk of my season is spent in charity fundraisers, private parties with corporations, and in the homes of many people just wanting to give their children and families a unique experience.

Many of these events and parties have asked for my return year after year, and I have had the joy of watching numbers of children grow into adulthood.  Now these children are having me as Santa for their children.  I love my job.

The Annual Wild Game Season I count as a year around season also, but the simple fact is, I’m too busy from October through December to give much thought to it.  However, every year I wake up on the morning of January 1st thinking about the Feed, and it doesn’t stop until I put on the red suit again in October.  For the eight and one-half months from January 1 to the day of the Feed, I will spend countless hours answering questions everyone has about the Feed.  I even wrote a list of FAQ’s to help with the answers, but the questions haven’t slowed down.  I love my job (even though I’m not a Feed member, and I’m definitely not paid to do this).

The Annual Wild Game Feed is a charity fund raiser event where I don’t have to be Santa, although on occasion some 300 pound guy with moose breath enhanced by beer and cigar smoke wants to sit on my lap and remind me I didn’t bring him his dream car last year.  (Believe me, there are down sides to looking like Santa.)  Other than that I will continue to promote this event because of the unselfish giving nature of the members of the Feed.

If you have been to this hootenanny, then you know the fun some 1,500 men from all arenas of life can have eating, drinking, smoking, competing, and just hanging out together.  There is nothing quite like it anywhere I’ve ever traveled.  And don’t forget, Santa travels a lot of places. 

I’ve heard guys lament over the shortness of the event, and indeed it is short.  The gates open at noon and by 7pm virtually everyone other than AWGF members are gone.  But there are ways of stretching this out a bit.  I know a few guys who meet for an early morning breakfast, then go to the Feed and make the waiting line into a party.  Some guys start the night before with a dinner gathering.  Basically they are making the party last a little longer by getting creative.  I like this.

I’ve simply stretched it into a season by writing about it year around, emailing with some distant friends about it, rounding up a herd of cigars to bring to the Feed, and helping people with their questions about it.  A couple of times each year I meet with some guys at a restaurant and have a long afternoon lunch.  We talk about the Feed, but mostly we are just friends because of the Feed.  I guess my stretching of the Feed season wasn’t done completely by myself, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is the enjoyment of the season.  Otherwise it becomes a very long wait.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Simple Life

Recently a friend posted on Facebook the following quote:  “I’m so old that I’ve actually dialed a rotary phone before, while listening to an 8-track, next to a black & white TV with aluminum foil on top of its rabbit ear antennas!”

To this I replied:  “I used a crank-box phone while listening to a hand wound Victor Talking Machine playing wax pressed 78 rpm platters sitting next to a 3-dial tuner Marconi radio using electricity generated from a farm windmill.”

This started a brief exchange with another friend who had similar experiences to mine.  The reality is there was a time in America before Smart Phones, High Definition,  Internet, and Computers.  I don’t want to go back to the way things were.  Yeah, I remember these things, and they make fun memories, but that’s about as far as it goes.

My great-uncle John and his wife Gertrude were farmers, and I really enjoyed visiting with them.  At least it was a break from the farm my grandparents owned.  Uncle John lived in a very complex world often referred to as ‘the simple life.’  But it was anything but simple.  Every day John would have to replenish the woodpile next to the kitchen door so Gertrude would be able to fire up the old cast-iron wood-burning cook stove.  She would spend all day working in the kitchen (literally from about 4am until 7pm) just so they could have cooked meals.  John would work the watermelon fields and maintain the farm animals (again from about 4am to 7pm).  And in their spare time they would retire to the ‘parlor’ to relax, watch the radio, dance to some music from their old Victor Talking Machine, or just fall asleep reading a book.

I would visit the farm a few miles southeast of Fort Worth for a couple of weeks each summer from the time I was about 8 until John passed away just before my 13th birthday.  I would work in the watermelon fields just as the harvest was beginning, and it was not easy.  Some of the melons would weigh in at 60 to 70 pounds.  But then again, I got paid real money for my contribution. 

There were days when we quit working the fields about noon and spent the rest of the day cleaning out barns, feeding animals, repairing fences, cutting and stacking wood, collecting eggs, milking cows, and several other things that couldn’t be neglected.  I suspect there were a few things, such as fence repair, that were neglected until I came for my summer visit, but that was okay.  I sort of liked the fence repair.

Uncle John was about seventy years older than me, but still, he could keep up a work pace that would drop a mule.  I do believe he would have worked longer days if the sun had stayed up a little longer.  In fact, during full moons he would often work into the night because of the extra light.

This is not to say all I did when I visited was work.  I had time to explore his old barns and look over items stored in them untouched for maybe a hundred years.  I opened a cabinet and discovered a cache of muskets from the Great War for Southern Independence.  I found a large number of pistols and swords from that era as well.  John told me he purchased the farm in 1911 from a civil war vet, and he had heard rumors that the place had once been used for meetings to stage another uprising.  He had also heard the place was used to store contraband weapons, since firearm ownership was outlawed in Texas from 1865 to about 1870.  He thought these were just rumors.

I asked why he had never opened up any of the boxes and cabinets in the barn before now, and he replied he never had the time.  There was always too much to do.  But he decided to join me for a day or so and just go through some of the old stuff.

There were built-in cabinets along one wall that yielded more than sixty rifles and muskets.  More than a dozen boxes contained pistols of varying types, and we found several trunks packed with old gray uniforms (mostly rotted).  Four or five crates of swords of several types and designs.  And under a pile of canvas tarps was a cannon.  It wasn’t enough to outfit a regiment, but it was far more than most people had lying around.   There was no powder for the weapons, but we did find a large box filled with shot canisters for the cannon.

The next morning John called someone at a museum to come out and look at this stuff.  I remember it was a long process of connecting through multiple operators to reach the museum less than 20 miles away.  .

My summer with Uncle John was over before the museum person came out to visit, so I never got to find out what happened with all those items.  I left with my family for a visit to Roaring River State Park in Missouri for a week, and when we returned, we found out Uncle John had been killed by falling through the roof of a barn he was repairing.  A few years later I went to the museum to inquire if they had purchased the war items from my uncle, but they had no record.  Aunt Gertrude also never answered my questions about them.

I’ll never forget the farm.  Candles, kerosene lamps, wood burning stove, windup record player, crank box telephone, outhouse (complete with bugs, spiders, snakes, and wasps), working from dark to dark, caring for animals, raising watermelons, etc.  And they called it the simple life.