It began in the now extinct Sav-On Drugs on Fern and Lancaster Blvd., in 1968. Charlie found a nice parking spot for his new Plymouth. We made our way through the cold December Mojave Desert wind to the store’s automatic doors. A long freezer of ice cream offerings inside the drug store greeted us. A rainbow of frozen delicacies, pistachio, strawberry, blue bubble gum, chocolate mint, Neapolitan and that wonderful holiday special ice cream, spumoni, tempted us. But we had yet to shake off the winter chill.
We pushed through the chrome turnstile into a wonderland of merchandise far more tantalizing than the chest-high, white drug counter at the back of the store. Two aisles, connected by glittering swaths of aluminum swags overhead, lured Charlie and I down this consumer driven Christmas avenue. “What do you think, Charmaine,” Charlie began, “maybe we need something new for the Christmas tree this year?” His curled, thick gray hair hid his inner little boy entranced by Christmas magic, and exceptional Christmas season merchandising.
A row of popular blow mold Christmas characters, displayed at eye level, caught Charlie’s attention. “Look, Santa lights up!” Charlie exclaimed as he caressed a 13” fat Santa with his black bag of goodies at his side.
“I think that’s perfect. We could put him under the Christmas tree,” I said.
“Or even outside on the porch,” Charlie added with his pale eyes gleaming at the possibilities.”
That was the day when the Empire Plastic Corp Santa Claus (now a collector’s item) entered the house and was treated like that silly fishnet stocking leg of lamp from the movie, “The Christmas Story.”
Over the years Santa stood watch on the front porch, under the Christmas tree, or in the front window for all to admire.
Today, 52 years after rescuing Santa from a drug store shelf, I unpacked the jolly old elf. He rightfully sits beneath the Christmas tree.
He’s accompanied by newer versions of Santa: one shoed in roller skates and donning a Hawaiian shirt; another manipulating puppets. On the piano, you’ll find the high-tech Santas that sing and dance to Christmas music, and ask boys and girls what they would like for Christmas. But the greatest Santa of all, is a seasoned blow mold Santa under the Christmas tree.
Now those who know me well, are probably wondering why I’m praising this plastic icon. It’s not because it is Santa, and I don’t love plastic things — it’s the memory of a grown man’s joy of owning and displaying this bit of American Christmas kitsch with all the excitement of a kid at Christmas.
It’s about the heartwarming moments when my personal life was askew. It’s a memory that brings me to emotional tears when I wish that there were more times like that with Charlie.
You see, Charlie was my godfather. With his wife, Marie, they took me in as a toddler when my own father couldn’t deal with this motherless child. Over the years I was in and out of Charlie’s house. I wish that I could’ve stayed there, but life and the lives of others in charge got in the way.
Charlie taught me things and gave me the attention and confidence I needed — things that my own father couldn’t be bothered with. Charlie and I danced, played old records, explored exotic restaurants, told jokes and laughed often, watched and discussed the news of the day, On warmer days, we stopped at Sav-On Drugs for two scoops of ice cream on a wafer cone.
And as Christmas neared, it was all about Advent calendars and wreathes, decorating everything, peppermint candy, cracking fresh mixed nuts and peeling tangerines, and deciding where to place the prized 13”, lighted real plastic Santa with his bag filled with good memories.