Fake News

A scene from the Christmas village given to me by my late husband.

My career as a news reporter began at age five, when I informed my shocked kindergarten classmates that Santa Claus was not real. I had the scoop thanks to my older sister and brother. I don’t recall being dismayed when I learned about Santa—probably so eager to spread the news. I’m sure, however, that a number of parents would’ve cheerfully throttled me if I’d been within arm’s reach when their crestfallen children returned home from school that day.

Santa Claus, whether serious mythology or child’s fantasy, is pretty much universal. Our American version reportedly came from the Dutch “Sinterklaas.” The United Kingdom has Father Christmas, if you speak French it’s Pere Noel, there’s Hoteiosho from Japan, and of course, Saint Nicholas, a flesh-and-blood human of the fourth century. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (located in modern-day Turkey), credited with numerous miracles including fantastic accounts of reviving people who’d been gruesomely murdered. The most credible event, say historians, and the one that connects him with Santa Claus, has to do with three young sisters whose father couldn’t afford dowries for their marriage. Prostitution was their only option. Legend has it that Nicholas anonymously tossed three bags of gold coins through their window, saving the young women from a life of degradation. One tradition has him tossing the coins down the chimney, thus we hang our stockings.

Our present-day image of Santa Claus is pretty much based on the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” published in 1823, attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. We know it as “The Night Before Christmas.” Band and choral leader Fred Waring recorded an enchanting musical version of the poem in the 1950s. Despite my atheistic view of Santa Claus, as a young woman I about wore that record out. My favorite Christmas movie is “Miracle on 34th Street,” in which the U.S. Postal Service proves Santa is real.

In our town, Santa’s sleigh is not led by Rudolph’s red nose, but the flashing blue lights of a police car. Then comes a diesel-powered pickup pulling a brilliantly lighted sleigh. Amplified Christmas music draws us to our doors and windows to see Santa waving and handing candy canes to children who brave the cold to run out and greet him. One Christmas, after my late husband’s paralyzing stroke, Santa’s sleigh paused in front of our house. Santa himself (who in another life was a business owner and president of the Chamber of Commerce) climbed out of the sleigh and delivered a candy cane to my husband in his wheelchair. This year, when I spotted the blue lights flashing through my kitchen window, I rushed to open the door and wave. Somehow our town has kept this tradition alive for at least a couple generations.

As a reporter, I made my share of errors and consequently published corrections. But that story I told back in kindergarten? It was the only time I could be accused, rightfully, of delivering fake news.

Gone Fishing

fullsizeoutput_1d00Even though he is by his own admission a prominent scofflaw in our small town, I know very little about Robert. I know only that he plants himself fairly frequently midway across the Central Avenue bridge and stands there for hours with his ten-foot cross. I’m guessing that’s the height of the cross. For sure, it’s big.

That bridge is a good site for messaging. It connects the east, or Indian reservation side of town, with the west, or non-reservation side. The bridge spans the Okanogan River, which bisects our town and is the reservation boundary. Every once in a while, if people want to demonstrate or publicize something—like a protest march against the Dakota Pipeline some months ago—they’ll line up on the bridge with their signs. My dogs and I frequently walk across the bridge on our way to the East Side Park. We walk on the upriver side of the bridge to avoid crossing two lanes of traffic. Robert is on the downriver side of the bridge because, I suspect, that sidewalk is broader. People can more easily walk around him and his cross.

Because traffic usually is heavy and noisy, Robert and I merely wave to each other as the dogs and I pass by. One time, though, there were no vehicles on the bridge. In the silence, Robert called across to me: “You need to remember just two things!”

“Yes?” I responded.

“First, love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind,” he answered, “and second …”

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” I joined him in his shortened version of Jesus’ message. He smiled approvingly. The dogs and I kept walking.

fullsizeoutput_1d02Another time when traffic noise was missing, Robert called out: “I’m breaking the law, but no one seems to care.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

Grinning, he pointed to the sign posted above my head: NO FISHING FROM BRIDGE.

“Ah,” I said. “And you’re fishing for souls.” His smile admitted as much.

I don’t know if there’s a limit on how many souls a person is allowed to catch, with or without a license. But judging from the number of folks who drive by Robert with a friendly wave and horn toot, and judging from the number of teens I’ve seen give him a high-five as they walk past, and judging from the occasional passersby who I see stop to talk with him, Robert could be close to limiting out.