That jolly old gent who ho-ho-hos his way around the world every year is packing a lot of high-tech gifts as well as the traditional ones like baby dolls and trucks into a big sack in preparation for his long trip that will end Christmas Day on Saturday.
Santa Claus was too busy last week to grant me an interview but he made available two of his Santa helpers who have been stationed at the Ohio Valley Mall for the past month, greeting young and old to find out what they want in their stockings and under the tree Christmas morning.
They've heard all kinds of requests. "We handle 100 or 200 people a day," exclaimed Michael McNamara of Martins Ferry, who has been a Santa helper for 25 years. "We're in a high-tech world. Even the 4- and 5-year-old kids are asking for computers and technology stuff. These kids are smart."
If some youngsters get too frisky and try to yank on Santa's white beard, they get a surprise. They hear an "ouch" from Jerry Connor of East Palestine in Jefferson County, who has a real beard - a long white one. "I've had the beard for about 35 years. It comes in handy this time of the year."
For 20 of those years Connor played the role of Santa Claus. "I've traveled up to Maine, Massachusetts and other states to be Santa. This year I decided to stay home and come down here to the mall." When Connor is on Santa's throne to greet youngsters, McNamara operates the camera to take photographs. After a short break they switch roles.
Although Connor has heard numerous requests for I-pods, computers and other technological gadgets, "the tiny tots, 2- and 3-year-old girls, still ask for different kinds of dolls and a lot of the boys three to five years ask for trucks, tractors, GI Joes and things like that. I've had a few but not many requests for clothes."
While I talked to the two Santa helpers, 4-year-old Leeanna Schneid of Bridgeport, came to sit on Santa's lap. I asked her afterwards what she asked Santa to bring her. "New shoes and new clothes," she whispered as Grandma stood close by smiling..
There are no age barriers to seeing Santa. "We have had them from four days old to 99," commented McNamara. Which just goes to prove, he added, "no one person is too old or too young to see Santa." In the case of those two extremes, the visits were mainly to get a photograph with Santa.
There was one case that McNamara said had him in tears. "This one little girl came up and told me 'I just want one thing, Santa. Grandma died. Bring her back.' That really got to me. I was in tears. I couldn't do anything for a while."
Then there was the 8-year-old who had the strangest request. "He asked for a bachelor party."
Before leaving them to continue their work, I decided to quiz them on what Santa wanted for Christmas. Both had very short, concise replies. "Peace," answered Connor. "Ending the war would be the greatest blessing of all," McNamara stated.
This normally joyous and carefree time of the year has turned bleak for a young St. Clairsville man whose college studies in the music education field have been abruptly interrupted as he struggles to recover from acute myeloid leukemia.
Kevin Kalany, a 20-year-old junior student at the University of Akron, was diagnosed with the dreaded ailment in late November. He was first admitted for treatment at Wheeling Hospital but last week was transferred to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown where he faces the prospect of undergoing a bone marrow transplant.
Such a treatment would require him to remain in the hospital for an additional 100 days, during which time he would be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to his mother, Vicki Kalany, who has been at his bedside throughout this ordeal and as a result has been unable to continue her work at Riesbeck's Food Market in the Bridgeport plaza.
With hospital, doctor and household bills mounting, friends of Mrs. Kalany and her son are arranging a benefit spaghetti dinner for Sunday, Jan. 16 at the Lansing Community Center located in the former Lansing Elementary School building. Eat-in or carry-out dinners at $6 for adults and $4 for children will be from noon to 6 p.m. Local delivery will also be available, weather permitting. There will also be a bake sale, Chinese raffle and a 50/50 drawing.
Kevin played the trombone for four years in the St. Clairsville High School band. On enrolling in the University of Akron, he joined the college's marching band and also plays in many ensembles. He is in the college of fine arts and the honors college. He also sings in various choirs in Akron and also leads singing at his local church. Through special arrangements he will be able to complete this semester at UA but will miss all of the next semester.
There are a lot of people wearing colorful red, white and green badges that carry the message: "It's OK to say Merry Christmas to me."
They were distributed following the three masses last weekend at St. Mary's Catholic Church in St. Clairsville. The badges were a project of the St. Clairsville Knights of Columbus in their campaign to keep Christ in Christmas. Grand Knight John Swan said that while hundreds of the badges had been distributed, there were not enough to satisfy the demand after they were exposed to the general public.
"Since last weekend I've had calls from other churches, stores, police, the courthouse and many other individuals and groups who wanted the badges to distribute," Swan noted. "Unfortunately we have exhausted our supply. I even had one woman offer me $50 for one of the badges and I didn't have one to just give her." However, he said the Knights of Columbus intends carry out the project next year with a greater supply of the badges
For me, it has been a mostly joyous but unfortunately hectic Christmas season. Here it is just six days before the big day and I'm faced with shopping still to be done, presents to be wrapped and most importantly, getting a tree and decorating it.
This year's visit to a longtime friend, Antonia Wierzbicki at the Christmas Tree Farm located on the hill high above Lansing, is later than has been in past years. It is always a pleasant journey as the hardy and hard working Wierzbicki extends her greeting with open arms.
Either today or tomorrow we'll be making that trek to the farm, depending on when my daughter, Sara, arrives home from the University of Akron. She enjoys and looks forward to that trip even more than old Dad.
To all those who take the time to read this conglomeration of trivia, my fondest wish for a Merry and Blessed Christmas.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.