Chance in the Santa Clause By Charles Edwards

Chance. Does chance exist? Are we living an unknown destiny where we cascade in and out of the lives of others at precise moments that irrevocably alter us from that moment on? Or, is there a grand design where, if we’ll pay attention, we’re chosen for these events. This week we learned of a terminally ill five-year old boy who breathed his last breath while in the arms of a Kentucky Santa. This was surely such an event.

For fear of being thought of a “me too”, I hesitated to share two life altering moments in my life while playing the role of Santa in 1975. But I will nonetheless.

I was recovering from surgery to repair a fractured ankle and had, at best, limited movement; enough to keep me from being what would be considered gainfully employed.

The mother of a high school friend ran a ‘Christmas photo with Santa’ business at our local shopping mall and offered me the position of Santa. I’d like to tell you I had to pad the Santa costume, but that would not be truth. It fit very well actually; right down to the faux boots and shinny black patent-leather belt. One would surmise that the outfit wore me well.

My wife was hired as an elf and operated the camera at the precise time needed to freeze a moment in time for the progeny of each parent. Although each child’s response to a portly bearded man in a red suit was everything from sheer joy to equal terror. My only real complaint was, for God’s sake people, brush your kids teeth now and then. Think of a green odoriferous plume rising out of a cesspool and you’d be close to what I endured out of the mouths of many a child.

All that said, I savored the role and brought as much spirit as was held within my being to ‘be’ Santa more than the guttural Ho, Ho, Ho’s; so I sang. I sang to each child, or if in a group, I led a mini chorus of We Wish You A Merry Christmas or Silent Night. My shift was different; and as such, a local newspaper sent a reporter to do a story on my wife and I. I’ll never forget the article’s epilogue extolling that I was “indeed a real Santa”.

After the article hit the street, I was visited by, what I can only describe as, two Angelic events. On thing I didn’t mention was how my boss, if you will (my friends mom) knew I was someone who held strong religious beliefs, so she was quick to tell me, at the time of hiring, “…no Jesus stuff.” This is the place where today I would reply with the emoticon that indicates “you kidding, right?” I mean, what could Jesus have to do with Christmas? Anyway, her words echoed in my brain – because at this time of my life, I needed the gig.

One snowy Dayton, Ohio December day a mom brought her daughter to see Santa, and sat her on my lap. Such a sweet 7-year old girl who had, in no particular order, a short, but well thought out list of potential gifts. I don’t know what it was about this little girl, perhaps her overall demeanor of thankfulness, joy, peace, I don’t know, but it came over me to ask her if she would like a bible for Christmas. But I didn’t. My boss’s demand was instantly to the forefront of my mind.

It was at this moment, the little girl looked up at me and said, “and Santa, I would like a new bible for Christmas!”. My heart leapt while my eyes filled with tears. All I could muster was “Praise God”; at which time the girls mom stepped up closer and said, “God Bless you, Santa”. I felt like Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle) from the 1947 Movie, “Miracle on 34th Street”.

The next day, the little girl and her mom came back with a gift I still cherish. They had découpaged a Christmas card onto a wooden plaque with a hand-written Christmas blessing to the real Santa.

My second, and equally life-changing Santa experience, came just a few days latter. A school for young children with Down syndrome chose my morning shift to visit. The twenty-five or so kids ranged in age from 5 to 9 years old. They all shuffled in and sat in a semi-circle in front of me like I was the bhagwan shree Rajneesh; each eager for my every word. You can’t see me as I write this, but I am balling my eyes out at the remembrance of
how I felt, as it was I who sat in the presence of greatness that morning.

You see, the funny part is, we, as a society, put on such airs that, when we see genuineness, we’re drawn to it like moths to a flame, as they say. And I was drawn to them. I did the only genuine thing I could do at the time, I sang with them. Jingle Bells, as I recall. They all knew the words as they sang with enthusiasm, and it was good.

Then, one by one, each came and sat upon my lap with the most joyous of demeanor and thankfulness to be with Santa; yet, I, as Santa, was honored and humbled to have been chosen to be there. In them was no pretense, no sense of entitlement, just joy. In the same way bright sunlight reveals what is hidden in the shadows, their presence illuminated the part of my life that I held dear and, as it turned out, was fleeting.

There are no guarantees in life and we don’t often get a second chance. Some decisions are irreversible and there is no do-over. If you’re reading this, then I have good news; there’s time for your do-over. Only you know what ‘it’ is, but you can change the parts of your life that rob your joy, peace or fulfillment. The best way to receive joy is to give joy away. If you want peace, be the peace in someone else’s life. Choose to be chosen. You will be amazed.

There is a dream

photo 4It is hard to find the words that do justice when you experience something that stirs your innermost being. Today was just that kind of day as Jennie and I visited the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. I grew up in the 1960’s as part of a Midwest household that didn’t give much thought to the plight of anyone but our own.

Two full-time working parents with two latchkey kids reared by a host of neighborhood stay-at-home moms. Ones with parental authority to smack us on the behind if we got out of line; which did, on occasion, happen. Television was a mainstay and I watched the goings on of the world as part of the Nightly News with Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. At times the world looked pretty scary; especially after the assignation of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

My brother and I grew up in a poor to middle class neighborhood (depending on the street you happened to live) that was, as I recall, 100% white. The Blacks in our town lived in their own neighborhoods and went to their predominately Black schools. We didn’t go to their neighborhood and they didn’t come to ours. It was just the way it was, and we didn’t think to question it.photo 1

It wasn’t until I started going to the YMCA to hang out in the late 1960’s for swimming lessons that I began to see and interact with Black kids from around town. It wasn’t a dislike thing for either of us, it’s just that we didn’t have much to talk about or seem to share anything in common, so conversations didn’t go very far. I couldn’t imagine how later in life I’d learn just how far from the truth this was.

I’ve come to learn that discrimination is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what a person owns or how they feel about themselves or their accomplishments. Discrimination says, “You don’t fit here; whoever you are, irrespective of from where you came.” Discrimination strips away all dignity and individual purpose and freedom.

Discrimination enslaves the will of an individual so that all that is left is the fight to retake that which was taken or acquiesce and become, literally, a walking dead. Dead to hope; the heart of despair.

Due to the fact that my mom was a single-mom rearing two boys from 1958 to 1964, we experienced some short-term discrimination from those that looked down upon our station of life, but it pales in comparison to the world beyond our four walls.

photo 2Today I stood in hotel where Dr. King worked, prayed, laughed and died. I gazed upon his hotel room just inside the wall where an assassin’s bullet ended his life as he stood on the hotel walkway. Like many places I’ve seen of late, this place looked very small, fragile and surreal.

photo 3It was said that Dr. King, after giving his extemporaneous “I’ve been to the mountain top” sermon, came back to the Loraine Hotel to rest and hang out with friends and supporters of the Memphis sanitation worker’s strike, and had a pillow fight with one such friend.

The Civil Rights Museum is done conscientiously well. The exhibits, interactive displays and video presentations allowing a visitor to walk through time and see life from slavery to today, from the Black perspective.

We all have a lot in common in the human condition of wanting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Beyond Graceland, and within walking distance of the two-block area of Beale Street, sits The Civil Rights Museum; a destination worth seeing even if seeing nothing else.

Adieu Nouvelle Orléans

As has been said, all good things must come to an end.  And so it is with New Orleans as the Paisley Turtle packs up and heads North to Memphis, Tennessee Sunday morning.

Boyou SignetteWe’ve been staying at the Bayou Signette Louisiana State Park since April 27th and can say, without any hesitation, this is a great place to stay.  Close to all the hub-bub of the New Orleans French Quarter and, even more, on the outskirts of the fray that is Bourbon Street.

Spacious sites with 50 amp hookups, water (no sewer hookup), free laundry facilities – with AC for those hot Summer nights and days, and a diverse tree population that ads character to the property.

This time of year, and on into late June, the “Love Bugs” come out and annoy you to death, but they’re harmless unless you squish them; at which time, they emit a protein that stains paint and smears windshields to the point of opaqueness.  Love BugsThey were worse in Florida last year during August, but they’re a pest nonetheless – with no known predator.  In case you didn’t know about this little black and red flying insect, it get’s it’s name due to mating while in flight.  Yeah, I know, disgusting.

Those of us accustomed to “Smart Phones” have become reliant upon them for internet searches and
directions.  I used to have a Garmin suction cupped to my windshield; but now, it sits in a box somewhere under our sofa while Jennie’s IPhone sweetly recites directions.  We navigate like locals and see the innards of the towns and cities we visit, like the area of Magazine Street outside of The French Quarter and downtown New Orleans.

The Audubon Zoo resides on Magazine Street, just up Loyola_Logofrom Tulane atulane-universitynd Loyola Universities, as well as a Whole Foods Market.  Yes, we found everythinZoo Logog one could reasonably ask for in a city; great food, sites to see and leaving in one piece.

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The road beckons and the Paisley Turtle is packed and ready to roll Sunday morning.  Giving thanks for all we’ve seen and for the sights just around the bend.

We do’in da Cajun thang

NOLO 13The requisite destination to New Orleans (NOLA) is the French Quarter; however, it ain’t all Bourbon Street!  If you’ve never been to Bourbon Street, then you’ve missed the smells and sights of a party place reserved primarily for the young and stalwart drinker relegated to a few parallel  cobblestone streets lined with bars with catchy names, like “Huge Ass Beer” – known for a plastic beer container with a protruded posterior and 72-ounces of libation and a tee-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “How much ass can you handle”.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Another extremely popular destination is the Cafe Du Monde; famous for their interpretation of beignets and coffee laced with chicory.

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I have fondness for the coffee from a memory of having coffee with my grandfather when my brother and I would visit my grandparent’s home during Summer vacation from elementary school.

My grandfather, born in 1900, lived as an adult during the great depression in the 1920’s.  Many of those of the era, including my grandfather, would, due to the lessor cost, use chicory to extend their more expensive coffee.  If you’ve never tried this type of coffee, it is on par with a Starbucks-Americano, with three shots.  It’s an eye opener.

As for beignets, the name must be French for “may I have some fried bread and powdered sugar”.  It is a culinary indulgence not recommended for those of us eating gluten free or trying to shed our beer baby; but what the heck, it’s a NOLA thang!NOLO 4

A different NOLA is off Bourbon and N. Peters Streets on the back side of Jackson Square and down the streets of Toulouse, Dumaine, and St. Louis. There is a mix of restaurants, shops and 3-4 story apartments.  Many of the streets are one-way only and quite narrow; especially when street performers are busking for their daily bread

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We’ve searched for homes to buy in several states across the USA and have used the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to cull our search.  It seems that NOLA has added a new category for residences when we saw a sign that added, as one of the selling points, ‘Not Haunted”.  Not something I’d ever considered as a draw, but hey, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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It appears there is another world of gentry lurking behind the drawn shutters and wooden doors hardened by age and use.

We spied a glimpse of ‘normal’ life through a metal fleurs-de-lis gate and found a beautiful slate patio area lined with ferns and wrought iron furniture surrounded by a bright-yellow stucco edifice.

I’m an odd bird when it comes to the way I think and process information.  Whenever I visit a zoo and stand to study an animal, I often wonder if the animal is, in turn, studying me.

NOLO 5From the number of residences, that are the grace of NOLA, perched above the shops and bars, I have to wonder what, those who live above this foray and watch the day-to-day mass of humanity pass below them, are thinking of us.  Maybe the zoo came to them.

Our shell is staying a bit more in NOLA and the Paisley Turtle is inching onward to new experiences of people and stories to tell.

(All photos by Jennie Edwards)

Festival International de Louisiane

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Travel can be an insulator or a conduit. Whereas we may not get everything we want, we’ll always get 100% of nothing if we don’t invest in an experience.  Like all things, our reward depends on the amount effort we put into an endeavor, relative to expectations.

Ladies

The richness of travel is emersion into the culture of the area.  We either learn of something new, we didn’t know we were missing, or find a new entry into the chapter of “I’ll never have to do that again”.  Louisiana is a culture-rich state, steeped in language, music, food and beer.  Lot’s of beer.

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Our visit to Lafayette, Louisiana landed us in the middle of a week-long event called “Festival International de Louisiane”.  A blending of Cajun French inspired music that was a cross between Bon Jovi meets Bedouin Monk and Earth-Wind-and Fire meets Garage Band; set up in a 5-block area of downtown Lafayette.

Four large stage areas, at opposite compass points around the city, boomed with music throughout the day as the tens of thousands of people cycled from venue to venue sampling food, drink and each other.

Being the nosy one, I asked a 30-something couple, whose four year-old daughter was perched upon her father’s shoulders, about the dual-language announcements being made over the sound system between bands.  “Cajun French” I was told.  Unlike Quebec, Canada, where Parisian French is the preferred and dominate language, Cajun French has been relegated to a generation gone by and, according to this couple, “…is dying out.  When we were young, and in school, we were punished and looked down upon if we spoke Cajun French, so we just stopped”

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It appeared that some of the young people in the audience, and every performer we heard on stage, still spoke the language.  The revelry of the crowd ratcheted up a notch each time someone spoke in Cajun French; but I have no idea what they said.

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There was a sponsor banner above one of the venues we stood with the words Fais Do Do in the lower right-hand corner.  I asked a middle-aged couple behind me what that phrase meant.  They said it was Cajun for “Dancing in the street”.  Now that, I understand.

Our shell is moving and the Paisley Turtle is inching onward to New Orleans.

God Bless Texas

I saw Texas the first time in 1975 when my former wife and I traveled the country on our 1973 Honda 500.  We came from the North and traveled down to Corpus Christi.

The only portion of my first visit that exists is the amount of road construction going on.  Was in 1975, and is today, only on a grander scale.1507132_10203092440408887_1515716765_n

This time my wife, Jennie, and I entered Texas on the Western side where Texas meets New Mexico heading East on Interstate 10.  A windy, barren and dusty drive with Mexico to our right and vast nothingness to our left.  Miles and miles of the same view until we reached Texas Hill Country where the landscape began to green up.

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With the exception of mountains, the topography and horizons of Texas are an amalgam of every place I’ve ever lived.  Desert to lush, barren to treed, it’s all here.

We’ve observed a few things about Texas that makes me love this place.  The first being, Texas is a place of personal responsibility.  I have lived the last 25 years in California. California is the home of laws against just about every conceivable thing; the purpose I suppose, to protect people from themselves.  Not so much,Texas.

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Motorcycle helmet laws? Nope.  Purchase ‘really good’ fireworks? Yep.  Purchase automatic, high capacity ammunition, weapons?  Yep.

Drop Off

We camped on the beach side of Galveston Island, Texas for five days. (I kept hearing the Glenn Campbell song from my youth echoing in my head the whole time.)   There is a sidewalk along the seawall that stretches for miles that sits above the beach, several feet.  We saw a sign posted on the sidewalk that was one of the best examples of personal responsibility we’ve seen.  It simply reads: “Caution Drop Off”.  That’s all.  No fence, no guardrail or security patrolling the walkway to remind people not to get too close to the edge.  Nothing obstructed the amazing view of the beach and Gulf of Mexico as the waves continually lapped the shore.

Another observation is that Texans, really love Texas.  If there is a USA flag flying anywhere, there will be a Texas State Flag flying right next to it.  Homes and businesses alike.

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We observed that Texans love to eat meat.  I saw a bumper sticker that read, “I love animals; they’re delicious”  That just about sums it up.  Texas BBQ of ribs and brisket are a staple food and available from large restaurant chains to Leroy’s BBQ, in Willis, Texas – near Lake Conroe. If you’re anywhere near Houston, Thursday through Saturday, Leroy’s is worth the drive.  (http://www.allmenus.com/tx/willis/60419-leroys-b-b-q/menu/ )

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We found the most delightful senior lady whose property boarders the Steven F. Austin park in San Felipe, Texas. Her childhood home was declared an Historic Site and she shared stories of the home and area with us as her granddaughters frolicked about the park exploring the weeds and fences.

There are jobs aplenty in Texas.  I lost count of the number of “We’re Hiring” banners I saw draped across the front of businesses.  A friend of mine, who left Eureka, California a year and a half ago to join the family business in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, told me that his business grew from 200 to 600 employees in just the time he’s been there.  The oil business is booming and money is flowing to every other industry as a result.  Seems Trickle Down economics thrives in Texas.

The Texas State Department of Transportation operates a FREE vehicle and pedestrian ferry between Port Bolivar and Crystal Beach. (saves miles, not time; however, it is a very nice drive back to Eastbound Interstate 10).  We passed Seawolf Park and the memorial for the 3,500 submariners lost during WWII.  I served aboard the USS James Monroe (SSBN622), so I too paid respect to some amazing men as we passed.

Homage to Sub Sailors

As Texas is now in our rear-view mirror and Louisiana is in front view, our shell is moving and the Paisley Turtle is inching onward.

(All photography by Jennie Edwards)

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