Christmas parade brings feelings of nostalgia

By Bill Shepard

The announcement of the Christmas Parade in last week’s News & Press sent an old man on a nostalgic journey into his past.

Just how far back, I am not certain, but at least more than four score years ago. Just how long Santa has been visiting Darlington on the back of a big red fire truck, I have no idea, but as a boy living on the mill village during that long-ago period, it was one of my special occasions.

From the moment that the event was announced by the kind old principal at St. John’s Elementary, my anticipation was on high alert.

The principal, Mr. Daniel, would always let school out early on that day. In that time, before school became such a regimented affair, the principal could and often would announce short days for most any occasion.

For instance, rainy days were always short days, as well as the day before a holiday.

If the fair or circus came to town, we could count on getting out of school early. Naturally, on the day that Santa was to arrive, we could expect to be dismissed early.

The crowd would gather early at the Town Square, each trying to be at the special place where the fire engine would park with Santa aboard. I was never certain, but it was commonly believed that Frank Drake, a fireman and the best auto mechanic to ever wear shoe leather, was the one who dressed like Santa every year.

The young, very young, old and not so old would be among the assembled crowd of expectants.

All had one thing in mind

— to have Santa fill their hands with the apples and oranges that he had brought along. I cannot remember ever getting candy, but never mind, the fruits were gifts enough.

It is safe to say that there were some in the crowd who had not seen an orange since the last year at that time. Lack of refrigeration and quick and easy transportation, along with the lack of money, were the reasons for that.

In those days oranges were not seen in stores, except during the Christmas and early winter season.

My, how time has changed!

Santa never arrived until after dark.

I suppose that was so the Christmas lights around the square could be turned on; also, the big Christmas tree that was erected on the courthouse lawn was lit.

When the siren sounded, somewhere on South Main, we knew that Santa was on his way and the crowd grew more tense with the waiting.

The big truck would circle the square a time or two with Santa on the back, waving to all the children and the children waving back. It was truly a moment in time, like no other.

When the truck came to a halt, Santa and his helpers would get busy handing out the fruit.

Every hand that was extended upward was filled with as many apples and oranges as it could hold.

I had learned from some of my friends to tie a string around my overall legs at the ankle so I could deposit the fruit inside my bosom and it would find its way downward.

Some boys carried bags, but I found the former easier than managing a bag.

At least both hands were free to reach upward.

I don’t suppose Santa had given thought to bagging the fruit and having the folk go through a line and receive it, which would have been a more convenient and orderly way. That came later!

Back at home, later that night, the fruit would be shared with those too young and those too old to endure the strain of waiting in the crowd.

This was the beginning of the Christmas season, and the stores on the square would be displaying their Christmas wares.
I won’t be in the parade this year, but I’ll do the next best thing. I’ll remember!

Author: Rachel Howell

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