Wendy Sue and Santa

Brother and sister check out proof of Santa.A few decades ago, when I was in the U.S. Navy, I was a crewmember in a P-3 Orion patrol plane. One of my jobs, it turned out, was to talk with Santa via radio. Let me explain.

We were posted to Sondrestrom Air Force Base in Greenland, with the task of finding weak places in the sea ice that ice breaker ships could push through. The ice breakers would charge up onto the ice, and their weight would break the sheet of frozen sea covering. Behind them in the river of busted up ice came the supply ships that only during the warm months, when the ice was weakened by summer sun, could restock grocery shelves at another Air Force base and research center called Thule, in the northern reaches of Baffin Bay.

As luck would have it, our flights sometimes took us over the North Pole. One day, I was sitting at the airplane radio position, looking out the window at where the red and white column was supposed to be poking out of the snow, and a voice popped into my earphones.

The voice was saying to another voice something about reindeer needing to be fed extra rations. They needed the strength in a few months to pull an overloaded sleigh through the skies around the world. One of the voices kept calling the other one, “Santa.” I could barely contain my excitement.

I snatched up my microphone.

“Is that really Santa Claus?” I asked.

He admitted to the allegation, and asked my name. We chatted briefly and I told him what I’d like to find beneath my Christmas tree in a few months, and put in a word for some other young folks of my acquaintance.

The assignment ended, we returned home to Jacksonville, and Christmas pulled me to visit Mom and Dad. One afternoon, a cousin who lived in another state called to wish happiness on our home. I’m guessing Wendy Sue was about six, or thereabouts, and eagerly awaiting the annual visit.

Unfortunately, her brother, being a few years older and, he thought, wiser, had been attempting to convince Wendy Sue that Santa was not real. He had seen Mommy kissing Santa, he said.

Fortunately for Santa, my credibility was better than her brother’s. Wendy was glad to hear proof of what she knew – that Santa would be stopping at her house Christmas Eve.

The little girl grew up, married and became a parent. When last we spoke, she said she still believed in Santa. I’m glad for her kids.

Not so glad, though for the many kids in and near killing fields around the world. It is difficult to keep from crying out loud at the pictures of children in various war zones who have become, with a deliberateness rarely seen even in war, targets for alleged grownups who unlimber their tanks and rockets and transform homes into graves.

On a more peaceful note, and closer to home, police, fire and other emergency responders stand ready to care for their neighbors. PennDOT and municipal plow jockeys are ready, in case Christmas is made white, to clear the path.

One day, while flying over the North Pole, as I was tuning around the radio dial, a voice popped in my earphones, talking about feeding reindeer …

Let’s remember all of us who cannot be home, and all of us who have no home. And our own warriors who have volunteered to stand between our homes and the bad guys.

Merry Christmas – or whatever name each of the Wendy Sues assigns to this season of hopeful celebration.

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