The day Santa showed up at Grand Central Station, calling out “Does anyone here have a birthday?”

‘Tis the season!
Christmas Memories Division

Email: “Greetings, Bulletin Board! This is Second Wind, with the story of a Big 4-0 celebrated in December 2005 in New York City. The principal characters are Kate, the birthday girl; Bruce, her spouse; and Jody and Tom, good friends and co-celebrants. Since birthday girl had never visited New York, she and Jody decided that would be the destination — which worked out well, since Tom would be there for a meeting anyway, and Jody’s sister and her husband lived near the city and would come down to join them. Meanwhile, Bruce, being a good sport and spouse, would stay home with their two girls — well, not really. Secretly, plans were being made for substitute child care, with all the elaborate scheduling that involves, so that Bruce could come to New York to surprise Kate.


“Here, a quick flashback: Since Kate’s actual birthday was December 22, the celebrations at home had, in recent years, featured the appearance of a variety of Santas, hired by Bruce and greeted by Kate, at first unenthusiastically, finally with active dislike — a plague of Santas. ‘No more,’ she said. But this year she’d be safe — or so she thought.

“Jody and Tom had, however, convinced the very reluctant Bruce that he himself should appear in a Santa suit for the surprise meeting with Kate in New York. The group would stay in the hotel connected to Grand Central Station, where Bruce could change, and Tom would accompany him to the station to meet Kate and the others. So Bruce, in the Santa suit, bounds up the steps into the station calling out: ‘Does anyone here have a birthday?”’ Kate, seeing this Santa, looked at her friends. ‘Oh, no! How could you!’ But Santa got closer, and as soon as she saw his eyes, she knew this wasn’t just any old hired Santa.

“So it was a big surprise — but there was one thing the committee hadn’t thought about. What happens when Santa appears in Grand Central Station in December? He was immediately besieged by starry-eyed kids, giggling teenagers, and even curious grownups. Though he had been reluctant initially, he now got into the role — in fact played it to the hilt, making conversation and posing for photos, gradually inching his way toward the hotel lobby. There a group of three elderly ladies waved and wanted to pose with him, so they sat on a bench, and he lay across their laps as in one of those old Victorian photos.

“Well, it was a great 4-0 for Kate, with a Rockettes show, the big tree, Christmas windows, and dinners out, and maybe, too, it raised a little the Christmas spirits of some travelers and visitors in NYC that December.

“Merry Christmas, Bulletin Boarders!”

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “Long before Amazon, we had Monkey Ward’s and the Sears Wish Book. It was the way to Christmas shop for a stay-at-home mom. Just pick up the phone and place your order, quick as a wink. Well, most of the time.


“I telephoned to order these footed sleepers, and when the weary order-taker asked me which size I wanted, I told her: ‘Small, medium, large and extra-large.’

“A little exasperatedly, she said: ‘Yes, ma’am! I KNOW they come in those sizes. Which size do you want to order?’

“It took a few minutes of back-and-forth banter before she eventually understood that I wanted to order one of EACH size: a small, a medium, a large and an extra-large.

“Jeez, I had only four kids then.”

Zoo Lou of St. Paul: “When I was in fifth grade at St. Pascal Baylon, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far from computers, iPhones and HD TV, our class was assigned to perform the Nativity scene in the school Christmas pageant

“As roles were being handed out by Sister Thomasina, I was hoping to land the part of Joseph, one of the Wise Men, or, at the very least, the innkeeper. So what did I end up playing? A lowly shepherd without a single line of dialogue.

“Although I was disappointed, I wanted to look the part. So I borrowed one of my mom’s dish towels and tied it to my head with a piece of twine.

“Fellow shepherd Joe Duncan was supposed to have the only line: ‘Look! A star!’ But I just couldn’t resist being in the spotlight. ‘I’ve never seen such a bright star,’ I blurted out. ‘What could it mean?’ The other kids gave me a ‘That wasn’t in the script’ glare. A moment later, as the Wise Men paraded in, I went off the script again. ‘Who are they? And what are they bringing?’

“At the end of the scene, everyone gathered at the edge of the stage to sing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night.’ I was in the back — but not for long. I pushed my way to the front and began singing like Luciano Pavarotti. I’ll never forget the smiles and laughter from the audience, especially Sister Joan and Mrs. Day, who were beside themselves with my unabashed emoting, not to mention the dish towel on my head.

“Two years later, I hammed it up again when St. Pascal’s took part in a citywide skit competition at the old Lyceum Theater to celebrate School Patrol Week. And we won! Once again, I’ll never forget the laughter and applause and kids telling me how much they liked my performance as a police lieutenant. Sometimes, you just have to seize the moment.”

Dolly Dimples: “It’s not unusual to get gardening catalogs in the mail in spring, but I thought it was unusual to find a Christmas catalog in a package I recently received. I leafed through it, not too interested in what they were selling, until I came to a page that advertised authentic German sweets. The attractive pictures of treats such as lebkuchen, pfeffernusse, and stollen caught my attention. Those kinds of sweets were traditional in my family, and I enjoyed them many times, many Christmases ago.


“Those catalog pictures brought back a flood of memories. They transported me to our family’s sunlit kitchen, which, at Christmas, often smelled of good things baking in the oven. There was Mom energetically stirring a huge bowl of batter. (No electric mixers in those days.) She had a smudge of flour on her cheek, and her slender body was swathed in a big apron with the strings tied at the back in a floppy bow. The oven was pre-heating; cookie sheets and baking pans were ready; spices, candied fruit and raisins, along with other ingredients, were laid out. A gentle warning to me to not touch anything, and Mom continued cheerfully doing what she enjoyed doing the most: making traditional Christmas cookies and sweets for her family. Wonderful memories stirred by an unexpected catalog.

“I wish a Merry Christmas to all my BB family. May your memories of Christmases past be wonderful, too.”

Tom Haas: “Christmas Eve was always very important in my house — not only because of the religious aspect, but also because it was my father’s birthday. Decades ago, my father got a Santa suit and began showing up on Christmas Eve for a short visit with a few simple gifts. Santa also posed for pictures with one and all. Even adult men who carried the spirit of Christmas in their childlike hearts, like me, got a picture with Santa.

“My father is no longer with us, so my brother John plays the Santa role and does a great job!

“The Santa with the thinner beard is my father, and the photo was likely from the early ’90s.

“The Santa with the fuller beard is my brother John, and that was from 2015.”


Tim Torkildson: “Growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s and ’60s, I had very little access to seafood. Being Catholics, we had fish sticks every Friday. They were not a pleasant treat. I’m not even sure they were actually fish of any kind. Mostly breading and salt. Of course canned tuna was endemic, but as a young boy I regarded it as an inedible affront that mothers felt compelled to force on their young for the pure sadistic pleasure of it.

“Only at Christmas was the tang of the ocean carried into our home. That is when my dad inevitably brought home a one-gallon bucket of Elf pickled herring.

“It was a red plastic bucket, I remember, that lurked in the back of the refrigerator from around December 20th through January 5th. It was the exclusive domain of dad and his brothers, who came over nearly every day to eat it with Ry-Krisp crackers and squat brown bottles of Hamm’s beer.

“Cracking open the lid of pickled herring unleashed not only a rich and tangy odor throughout the house, but also a continuous and irritable murmur from my mother — somewhat akin to the endless murmur of waves crashing upon the Baltic shore. She found everything about pickled herring, and those who relished it, to be repugnant. It smelled up the house; it gave one tremendously evil bad breath; and once dropped upon the carpet, it left a greasy stain that even Mr. Clean could not fully eradicate. To her, it was a Yuletide curse.

“As an inquisitive and intrusive little boy, I was naturally curious about what all the fuss was for. So I asked Uncle Jim for a taste one Saturday afternoon. He was well on his way to finishing up his fifth or six bottle of Hamm’s, and was only too happy to oblige his nephew. I gave the proffered hunk of pickled herring a few perfunctory chews and then swallowed it. The taste was very . . . well, after all these years, I really don’t remember the taste so much as the subsequent reaction — all over the living room carpet. Such a household felony usually meant the firing squad, but Mom took pity on my outraged digestive system and merely sent me to bed without any supper — a moot point, anyways, since the thought of food for the next 12 hours sent my gorge to Himalayan heights.

“Over half a century later, with Mom and Dad and the beer-swilling uncles sleeping quietly in their plots at Sunset Memorial Park, I am spending the Christmas season with some of my own kids and grandkids, benignly overseeing the decoration of spritz cookies and the mixing of non-alcoholic eggnog. (The kids found an Internet site that claims nutmeg is the best thing in the world to prevent catching a cold.) And when no one is looking, I furtively go to the fridge to pull out an 8-ounce jar of Elf herring in wine sauce for a quick nibble. Like my father before me, I eventually discovered it is the perfect Nordic comfort food for the holidays. It no longer reminds me of the tang of the ocean — I’ve lived on the beach in Thailand — but the tang of vinegar, after too many heavily decorated spritz cookies, is a welcome change of taste.”

Our pets, ourselves
Christmas Division


St. Paul Spike: “Dude and Sam eagerly await Santa Paws’ arrival by our Christmas tree.

“Well-fed Dude was a stray that CA Transplant and I rescued from the St. Paul Animal Humane Society in 2012.

“We got Sam in 2013 after he’d spent three years in a research lab. Beagle Freedom Project works with labs around the world to get animals released and adopted after experiments are completed.

“Dude has helped Sam find his inner beagle, and they’re best buddies.”

Not exactly what he (or, of course, she) had in mind

Donald: “Subject: That would have been the worst!

“A ‘terrorism expert’ was being interviewed on a cable channel about the suicide-bomber attack in a New York subway. This is part of what the ‘expert’ said: ‘Luckily, no one else was injured or killed severely.’”

What’s in a (band) name
Or: Not exactly what he had in mind (responsorial)

Writes motomom: “After reading about Al B‘s remembrance of Buffalo Springsteen, I was reminded of my own similar melding of names.

“I had gotten my first motorcycle and my first riding suit, made by the excellent Aerostich company in Duluth. It was a sunny morning at the early edge of summer; Dania and Siobhan were in the car with me when ‘Dream On’ came on the radio. I said: ‘Isn’t this by Aerostich?’

“The return looks were pity and hopelessness: ‘Mom, AeroSMITH!'”

Now & Then
Our Living (and/or Dying) Language Division (1943 Yearbook Subdivision) (responsorial)

Aggie Girl: “The limits of my knowledge of the world are endless. I am middle-aged, and one of my degrees is in history, and yet I had no idea that the Pledge of Allegiance and the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ had ever been saluted by anything other than a hand over the heart. I had somehow missed the entire ‘similarity to Nazi salute and thus had to be changed’ thing. Clearly my WWII history classes missed something.

“So thank you to my BB friends for enlightening me on (yet another) thing.”

Our community of strangers
And: The workshop chronicles

IGHGrampa: “Merry Christmas to you and all of your family and friends.
I apologize for not sending items to you for some time now. I’ve been keeping myself busy with all of my old pursuits. Here are a few things I’ve made in the shop.


“The Santa figure in the front yard is new this year.


“The stars are ornaments I made. They’re in the painting stage; hence the sheets of newspaper. I thought putting the points of the stars right in the noses of the people in the picture seemed right in keeping with their expressions.

“Happy New Year, too.”

Our theater of seasons
Or: The simple pleasures

Peggy T of Osceola, Wisconsin: “Subject: Hoarfrost.

“Did you see how beautiful the ice on the trees was on Sunday? One of the perks of winter.”

The highfalutin displeasures

Snackmeisterin of Altoona, Wisconsin: “Subject: Holiday Greetings?

“This is from a company in Massachusetts that offers ‘MacBook Parts and Liquid Damage Repair.’


“Not my idea of humor or the Christmas spirit! Must be an East Coast thing. (And the line they inserted isn’t even the same meter as the rest of the poem! At least they got the apostrophes right!)”

Joy of Juxtaposition

Vertically Challenged: “I get a daily email book offer that is a ‘Nook daily find.’ This morning’s offer was called ‘All the Money in the World,’ previously published as ‘Painfully Rich.’ I just looked at it and sent it to the trash file and glanced up at the TV to see them talking about actor Christopher Plummer replacing Kevin Spacey in ‘All the Money in the World.’”

Life as we know it

Al B of Hartland: “I enrolled in a driver’s improvement class recently. I should enroll in an improvement class covering everything I do, but the driver’s class was the only one with an opening. Besides being reminded of common-sense things such as Don’t veer for deer, I learned a lot in the class. I’ll remember some of it.

“The instructor asked how often it is necessary to pass the vehicle ahead. I gave that proper consideration and found the answer to be: ‘Very seldom.’

“At the end of a lovely day of learning, I thought of something that Dudley Moore had said: ‘The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it.’”

The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Invoking ‘Que sera sera.’

“On a recent, routine visit to my health-care professional, I refused the offer of a flu shot. Asked to explain why, and knowing that a hard sell was beginning, I used my universal-rebuttal-cancelling reply that always helps me justify a seemingly poor decision: ‘I don’t want to interfere with God’s plan for me.’ (It’s always mysterious, the wonders that passage performs.)”

The highfalutin amusements

The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: Just when you think you know someone.

“Over the years, we have received numerous calls from people with almost-impossible-to-understand accents, warning us of a problem with our computer. The most recent call was answered by my wife, and she informed the caller (as we always have) that our computer is not the type he was calling about, and hung up.

“It was reminiscent of another time someone called with the same message, and my wife gave the same reply. The difference was that before she could disconnect the call, she heard the person scream: ‘Why are you lying to me!’

“Funny . . . I’d always thought of my wife as a truthful person.”

The highfalutin pleasures

Kathy S. of St Paul: “Subject: Finding your tribe.

“My favorite Christmas present this year will probably be a phone call I got recently. It was a huge thank you from one of two men (half-brothers?) I helped bring together this year. They are two of my genealogy cousins, given up for adoption in the 1940s. Before the Internet and DNA testing, they might never have met each other.

“Basically I located Cousin One, and the wife of Cousin Two found me. When I called Cousin One and he was tested, they matched up. I was thrilled to help them find each other.

“Not all ‘reunions’ turn out well, but I’m glad that so many people can learn something about their roots. And it is rare for genealogists like myself to feel like rock stars.

“Now, to get the laws changed so all folks of grandparent age can see their own birth certificates . . . .”

The Permanent Sonly Record
Plus: ‘Tis the season! Leading to: Ask Bulletin Board (responsorial)


Mom in Boyland: “My littlest boy wanted to make sure all was well with Mary, Joseph and Jesus as we placed their plastic figures on the lawn, so he knelt down to say a prayer. My husband had previously commented on how tacky plastic outdoor decorations were, so my mom made sure to give him some for Christmas. She’s been gone awhile now, and I always remember her tongue-in-cheek humor as we set these out.

“My mom also gave us a glass spider to hang on our tree and told us the story about the spider spinning a web of gold for a poor family at Christmas. She was from Scotland, so word must have traveled from Eastern Europe.”

Band Name of the Day: A Plague of Santas

Website of the Day: Beagle Freedom Project




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