Letter from the North Pole, 1957

Lacking a fireplace, I mailed my letters to Santa Claus at the post office in downtown Fentress. My list of preferred gifts was always extensive. I knew I wouldn’t get everything I wanted, but there was no harm in asking.

One year Santa wrote back. As proof, I’m posting not only the letter he wrote, but the envelope as well. Judging from the postmark and the reference to Sputnik, I’d just turned six.

It takes a lot of stamps to get a letter from the North Pole to Texas.

It also helps when your Uncle Joe is the postmaster.

How NORAD Became the Santa Tracker

It’s once again time for the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s (NORAD) annual tracking of the flight of Santa Claus from the North Pole to points all over the planet.

The children of Col. Harry Shoup told the story on a recent episode of Morning Edition’s Storycorps on National Public Radio.

During the Cold War, the colonel was commander of the Continental Air Defense Command (now NORAD). In case of an attack on the United States, he would have been the first to receive word.

Colonel Shoup was at his desk that day in 1955 when NORAD assumed the task of following the progress of Santa’s sleigh. But the new responsibility wasn’t ordered by President Eisenhower or any of the colonel’s military superiors.

The job resulted from a typographical error–one little mistake whose happy consequences are still being felt nearly sixty years later.

Official seal of the North American Aerospace ...
Official seal of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Note that the oceans’ colour is supposed to be “turquoise” http://www.norad.mil/about_us/heraldry.htm but has consistently been rendered, in recent years, as frankly greenish. Older memorabilia uses a bluer colour, ranging up to light blue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia), By Antonu [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Read–and listen to–Colonel Shoup’s   Official seal of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

And follow the Santa Tracker Countdown:

1 d, 5 h, 52 m, and 10 s–the last time I checked

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From the Storycorps website:
“StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.”

Storycorps is coming to Austin!

From the Storycorps website:

“The StoryCorps MobileBooth will be in Austin, TX, January 5 to January 30, 2015. Make a reservation today!

“Si desea hacer una reservación en españ ol o necesita más información, por favor llame al 800-850-4406, las 24 horas al día, los 7 días de la semana.

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Thanks to author Craig Johnson for sharing the link to the story about the NORAD Santa Tracker on his Facebook Author’s page.

The world in solemn stillness

We’re watching, one more time, It’s a Wonderful Life. Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (Angel Second Class), aka Henry Travers, is showing George Bailey, aka James Stewart, how his hometown would look if George had never been born.

In a couple of minutes, George will learn that, because he never existed, his wife, Mary, aka Donna Reed, not only never married, but became a librarian. Judging from her granny glasses, frumpy hat, and bun, that’s a fate worse than death.

It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t my favorite Christmas movie. I prefer Miracle on 34th Street, in which Edmund Gwenn–whom I rank right up there with Henry Travers–is declared, in court, to be the real Santa Claus. No librarians were defamed in the making of that show.

Nevertheless, as soon as half the town crowds into the Bailey living room to pile money on the table, I start to cry. And I cry through the credits and the next three commercials. Even a not-favorite movie can stir emotions. Year after year after year.

Favorites aren’t easy for me. I don’t have a favorite novel or a favorite song or a favorite color. Or a favorite teacher, actor, or pet. I have multiple favorites. For me, those get-your-password questions–“What is your favorite television show?”–are useless. I never remember whether I said Andy Griffith or Law and Order or I’ll Fly Away.

I do, however, have a favorite Christmas carol: “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” The melody is lovely and singable, but it’s the words that move me. They speak of peace and quiet and rest for the weary, of heavenly song floating above human cacophony. They speak of both tidings of peace to one small group of men, and the promise of a world in complete harmony.

But they also speak of the present, of stopping, and looking up, and seeing angels. They’re there now, and they’re singing.

We have only to be still and listen.

It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.