Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Daily Times Herald editorial board recently interviewed Mr. Santa Claus, 67, North Pole, about his Carroll County delivery schedule.

Mr. Claus usually starts in Breda on Christmas Eve, makes his way to the City of Carroll and the rest of our readership area, hitting Templeton at the end of the route. Santa tells us he enjoys the beverages some Templeton people place out for him instead of the milk (when he’s through sledding and home safely for the night, of course).

Now that the Wall Street Journal has featured Templeton Rye Mr. Claus is especially eager to swing through Carroll County. In Audubon, Mr. Claus, a fan of Midwest beef, is excited to try one of Pat Curtis’ Albert The Bull burgers at the Hometown Café — with a slice of cheesecake on side.

With all the loot he’s sledding around with in his North Pole SUV, Santa, who laughs at people on diets and eschews exercise for 364 days for necessary theatrical purposes, says in an exclusive interview with this newspaper that he longs for the easier hauls of past decades and centuries, when fruits and nuts were more common requests for kids than the Nintendo Wii game system, high-definition televisions with surround-sound, Xbox Kinnect, iPads and iPods and Kindles and Nooks and Droids.

In the 1920s and 1930s the Carroll Times (a weekly paper that was a precursor to this one) asked young people to write “Dear Santa” letters, just as our paper has in more recent years.

In 1937, at the height of the Depression, The Carroll Times received dozens of letters for Santa. Here are some of them:


Dear Santa:

As Christmas time is drawing near I will write you a letter telling you what I want for Christmas. I would like a snowsuit, mittens and fountain pen, candy and nuts and fruit.

Your Friend,
Ardis Bruning,
Arcadia


Dear Santa:

I have tried to be a good boy and would like to have you bring me these things for Christmas. A gun, some books, a game, a sled, and some nuts.

Your Friend,
Otis Hansen
Carroll


Dear Santa:

I am six years old and in the second grade. Please bring a sled, a game and a pencil box.
Your Friend,
Everett Rogers,
Carroll

(Note: The now late Everett Rogers put these pencils to good use as he became a prolific author later in life and was arguably the most influential person in the history of Carroll County.)


Dear Santa:

I am 5 years old. I go to school. Please bring me a toot-too truck, tractor, little table and candy like last year. Bring Larry a little car, Daddy a striped overall and mamma stockings.
Kenneth Lee Petersen,
Westside



The following letter came in December of 1925:


“Dear Santa Claus:

I will tell you what I would like for Christmas. I am 8 years old and in the third grade. I’d like to have an Eversharp pencil, handkerchiefs, candy, apples and nuts.”

Your Little Friend,
Alvira Schultes,
RR 1, Carroll

This newspaper has received some compelling letters to Santa in recent years.

One of our favorites is the little girl who wrote a few years ago with this request: “I can’t buy my mom presents. Please help me. One more thing: What do deer eat and what do you eat?”
Then there’s the Santa letter from a boy who asks, “I wish I could have a brother from my mom.”


*****

One of the more gripping, inspiring Christmas stories I’ve ever heard doesn’t involve Tiny Tim and a bunch of lame ghosts.

Or Jimmy Stewart and a town called Bedford Falls. (With apologies to Denison native Academy Award-winning actress Donna Reed.)

Or that kid who wants a BB gun.

That’s fiction.

Maybe it’s all the yellowed papers I’ve gone through to research some recent history-minded stories here, but my heart this holiday season goes back to Christmas Eve in 1944 in war-torn Europe — on a train full of Allied prisoners of war.

The real meaning of this holiday never seemed more clear to me than it did on Page 243 of historian Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Citizen Soldiers.”

This Christmas story concerns Private Vonnegut.

After his fighting group was forced to surrender, the Germans marched the POWs some 60 miles to Limburg. There, they were marched to railroad yards and loaded on to 40-and-8s, French rail cars from World War I designed to hold 40 men or eight horses.

There was no water, food or sleep, Ambrose wrote.

In Vonnegut’s car, half the men had to stand so the other half could sleep.

There they stayed for days, according to Ambrose.

In one of those cars, a man began singing.

“He obviously had a trained voice; he was a superb tenor,” Private George Zak recalled.

He sang “Silent Night.”

Soon, others in the car took up the song.

It spread through the cars.

The German guards even joined in.

But suddenly, in the middle of the song, the air-raid siren went off. The Royal Air Force started bombing the train, not knowing it carried Allied prisoners of war.

Many men died.

Eventually the bombing stopped.

“Hey,” someone called out from one of the railroad cars. “Hey, tenor, give us some more.”

A voice from the other end of the car responded: “He ain’t here. He got killed.”

“So it went on the Western Front during the Christmas season of 1944,” Ambrose wrote.

With brave Americans again giving life and limb this story is particularly timely, and should give us all pause as we have the free voices to sing “Silent Night.”


*****

A quick political note: Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich plans another visit in Carroll before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. No official date and time on this, but Gingrich’s Iowa senior adviser Katie Koberg — a Carroll native — and others at the Georgian’s campaign headquarters in Urbandale told me Wednesday to expect a Carroll campaign stop. Gingrich already has been in Carroll twice — both times at the Santa Maria Winery.