Even though we were a small town out in the middle of nowhere, Santa still always found the time to show up and be there. Our Christmas parade had only fifteen entries, and only two of those were floats. The rest were tractors and wagons, the fire truck, the car with the Beauty Queen and her runner-up, the car with the local real estate couple, and the car with someone running for office. There was always someone running for some office.
The parade was so short it would go all the way up Main Street (all two and a half blocks of it) and then come back down, so we could see it twice.
It didn’t matter. We were kids. My friends and I ran wild, caught up in the Holiday Spirit, following the parade up and down the sidewalk, keeping pace, yelling and laughing while dodging the people lined up on the sidewalk. Our favorites were the real estate couple (Frank and Joan; Frank was the one with the bad toupee, Joan had the Botox lips), the office holder wannabe, and the fire truck. They didn’t have the floats, but they were the ones that gave out the candy.
Frank and Joan’s kid, Bobby, would sit in the back of their car and throw candy at everyone. He was pretty mean. He gave me a black eye with a Snickers bar one time. They gave good candy, like the Snickers, but I didn’t like them so much.
Whoever was running for office always gave out candy, too, but it always seemed to be the hard or chalky kind, and they always threw it out by the handfuls so it would break when it hit the street at our feet.
Then came the fire truck. It was our favorite-favorite. Our local Fire Fighters were all volunteers, so everyone knew them, and they were always friendly. They would walk alongside the truck and hand out candy to us kids and shake hands with the grownups, all the while smiling and singing Christmas songs. And Santa rode on the fire truck with them. Santa was up in the bucket on the back of the Fire Truck. He always rode all the way up there so he could see everyone and they could all see him.
I remember asking my Dad why Santa rode on the fire truck all the time, and he smiled at me and said, “Maybe Santa always wanted to be a Fire Fighter when he grew up and letting him ride on the truck is Eddie’s way of giving Santa a Christmas present.”
Eddie was our Fire Chief. He was the only one who was not a volunteer and worked at the Fire Station all the time. It kept him pretty busy. Ours was the only Fire Station for a long, long ways.
Well, as it turned out, I think my Dad was right. I think Santa had always wanted to be a Fire Fighter.
Every year, after the parade, everyone would go to the Fire Station for a Christmas Dinner and Santa would hand out a present to each kid that came. We would all take turns sitting on his lap and telling him what we wanted for Christmas, and he would give us each a ‘little something to hold us over until Christmas.” I remember one year I got a glow in the dark necklace with a real bug in it!
The whole thing was a pretty big deal for everyone, not just us kids. It was our annual fundraiser. We all bought the Christmas Dinners to raise money and brought presents for other, less fortunate, kids. The Fire Fighters would collect the money and presents for the Children’s Hospital. I was too young to really understand, but I knew it was a thing our community was always proud of.
Then came the night of the Christmas Parade no one would ever forget. I remember I had my shirt pulled up over my nose (I was breathing hot air into the fabric to keep my nose warm) when the Fire Truck stopped in the middle of the street and turned its lights off. It was weird, because they always did the parade with their lights on.