|Feature Article (Page 2)|
Big John Was A Real Life Santa Claus… –by George Bonin Sr.
A recent glimpse of the name,” MacNamara”, in the paper caused my memory to regress to the year 1920. and the name “Big John” MacNamara, custodian of the Agassiz Street School in Jamaica Plain, a suburb of Boston.
While everyone knew him only as “Mac”, the school’s janitor,, he was remembered by many of the older residents, as having been taking care of the school when they were pupils almost half a century before.
Mac had never married, and was not known to have any relatives. No one seemed to know where he had come from his only home was a small room in the school basement.
When asked why he hadn’t sought a more suitable home, he would chuckle, “Well, it is warm, and the old boiler is like a spoiled child it needs watching!”
He babied that big, old-fashioned, coal-fired boiler, and often spoke to it like another human being.
On the Friday before Christmas, the entire school would celebrate with a party, and only one person had the build to portray Santa without padding Old Mac with his flowing white beard. The last, and happiest event at the party, would be Mac emerging from the furnace room with his bag of presents, dressed as Jolly St. Nicholas.
To the delight of his youthful audience, Mac would do a routine perfected by years of practice. When finished, “Santa” would bid all goodbye and disappear into the boiler room. So realistic was his performance, the youngsters insisted he had “gone up the chimney.”
Following the holidays, this old man would resume his janitorial duties, with no resemblance to the jolly Christmas visitor.
But the years were exacting their toll, and the school board decided Mac was no longer capable of stoking the huge furnace, or cleaning the school, so they retired him with a pension, of course.
After the school year had ended, Mac sadly gathered his meager personal possessions into a few small cartons, made his final cleaning of the corridors and schoolrooms, straightened up his basement room , and shined and polished the massive brass door of the huge furnace until it gleamed.
He then trudged heavy-hearted out of his beloved school for the last time. Mac found a tiny house near the railroad tracks of the New Haven RR in Forest hills, a shack which had been abandoned by the railroad for a long time. It was not as warm as his school basement room, but there were no rent problems, and, it was, as he said, “a roof over my head.”
During the ensuing summer months and into the fall, Mac did odd jobs around town, and later, after retiring to his house, was not seen for several months.
If he was missed, no one took the time and trouble to check and see how he was doing.
The Friday before Christmas was a cold, brisk day with snow on the ground. Miss Wilson, the principal, glanced out of her office window to see a familiar figure approaching the school and carrying a large suit box.
A look of embarrassment and dismay crossed her face as she surmised the old man’s mission. Mac entered quietly, and said, “I thought you might be needin’ a good Santy Clause, Miss Wilson,” as he smiled broadly.
The principal bit her lip and looked helplessly at the old man.
Finally, she broke the silence with, “I’m sorry, Mac, but we already have a Santa selected.”
The old man hung his head in disappointment. “But here,” and she handed him a large box of chocolates someone had given her.
From the school, Mac went to churches and some of the area’s businessmen, seeking a one-night-stand in his favorite role.
Each visit produced the same negative result, but everyone, out of pity and being moved by the pathetic gesture of an old man who hated to set aside his seasonal masquerade, provided him with gifts and food.
He arrived home loaded with presents and found additional food baskets and a turkey donated by charitable organizations and service clubs.
At dusk on Christmas Eve, a familiar figure emerged from the small shack.
The red suit, once brilliant, was faded, but the white beard sparkled with a natural luster. With twinkling eyes and sprightly steps that were those of Santa Claus, he might have been heard to chuckle as he shifted his rounded pack from one shoulder to the other.
And, in the dim light of the evening, the large sack filled with charitable “presents” was transformed into a magical pack loaded with Christmas gifts.
Happily, the jolly fellow tramped through the snow from one house to another, visiting the poorest homes to distribute his gifts. He made many steps, for in addition to the gifts, he had received, he had included small things that had belong to his mother, and many books he had treasured for years.
It was close to midnight when the tired old man returned to his humble cottage, his sack now empty and trailing behind him. If anyone had been watching, they would have seen a dim candle burning for a short time, and then go out, leaving the tiny abode in darkness.
During the busy holiday season, no one gave a thought of Mac, or missed him. About four days later, Pastor Timothy Harrington, decided to stop by the cottage, and there he found Mac lying in peaceful, eternals sleep, a sweetly reminiscent smile on his care-worn face.
Later, when the neighbors came in to sort Mac’s meager belongings, they found practically nothing but several empty boxes and neatly folded on a chair in the corner, a threadbare Santa Claus suit.
Mac would have been proud if he could have seen the turnout at his funeral. The wire services picked up the story of Mac and the spirit of Christmas, after Mayor Curley, also a Jamaica Plain resident, had delivered a stirring eulogy.
The final touch Mac would have cherished he was buried wearing his beloved Santa Claus outfit.
If that school is still standing, somewhere within it is a small brass plaque inscribed, “In memory of Mac’ a real-life Santa Claus,’ place there by grateful students.
I know, because I was one of those students!
Note: About the author:
George Bonin is a columnist for The Pawtucket Times and as this is written, has authored about 1500 columns, has written a column in the Free Press in North Attleborough, Massachusetts for 16 years,and still writing at age 88. Mr. Bonin is also Senior Staff Writer for Catholic Reflections Magazine.
used with kind permission from the author. Copyright George Bonin Sr. http://home.thirdage.com/Writing/scriberg85/ all rights reserved by the author.
Copyright 2004 e-Catholic2000.com All rights reserved