This is something that might be appropriate to post on Christmas Day [so this year I will]. But the first part of my story began in early December…many years ago back in Central Pennsylvania.
When I was in kindergarten at the Catherine Sweeney Day School, I had a major disappointment my first Christmas at our home on North Second Street in Harrisburg. Dad took me to see Santa Claus at Cline Village Shopping Center (a prototype of those ubiquitous malls, which –along with fast food chains— seem to be one of America’s principal contributions to global culture). I made my request to Santa. Then on the way home, Dad tried to get me to reveal my conversation. I resisted at first, saying that it was a matter between Santa and me. Eventually, I relented…to his apparent relief.
My sister Julie and brother Sherry encouraged me to leave cookies for Santa next to the tree by the stone fireplace in the finished basement. Christmas day came. The cookies were gone and in their place was a note & large cardboard box that looked something like a medieval strong box. I opened it, stared, and expressed instant disappointment. “There’s been some mistake!” I said. “Santa couldn’t have gotten it wrong. I was very clear!”
Daddy was disappointed too. Inside was a plastic medieval knight’s suit of armor. Dad must have gone to a lot of trouble to find it; but it was not what I had asked for. “I specifically said I wanted Roman soldier’s armor just like the picture on Roman Meal Bread. There’s a problem here. Santa couldn’t have misunderstood me. All right Daddy, tell me: is there or is there not a Santa Claus? I can take the truth.” …………So that’s how I found there was no Santa. My questions about the historical Jesus began soon afterwards.
(Years later, in 1989, I was in my first Grove Play, “Pompeii,” at the Bohemian Grove. I was not a soldier. But in the production was just the kind of armor I had wanted thirty-three years before. I mentioned it to Dennis. Then at Christmas 1992, I opened a large package— too big for a box— and burst into laughter. There was my suit of Roman armor. Dennis had bought it, along with a piece of styrofoam lava, from our friend, John Blauer, head of the Costume Department at the club, and co-author of the play. Thirty-six years is a long time to wait for a special Christmas wish… I only wish Dad had lived long enough to have been my guest at the Grove. Dad would have loved the club with its four pillars of Music, Art, Literature and Theatre. Sherry Bell would have been a great Bohemian!)