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My Real Santa

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JJ Rocks Article # 17:
From St. Croix Music Magazine, Issue # 3, December, 2006

So Christmas is upon us and itís that time again to feel that closeness to our friends and family that many of us take for granted the rest of the year. And itís also a time when some of our favorite memories come to mind. Unlike other holidays, the Christmas season always seems more memorable to most of us. Not many people can remember what they were doing or where they were on most Halloweens, Easters, or other holidays. But events during this joyous time of year get filed in a special undeletable folder in the back of our hearts and itís only opened by the true Christmas spirit. When I say ďtrueĒ spirit, Iím not referring to the feeling that you get when you see lights on a tree or in a store window. Not the thrill of opening your gifts each year. And even though it runs a close second, not even the warmth in your heart when you give a gift. Many people canít remember most of the gifts that theyíve given or received. But almost all of us can remember things that have happened to us on or around Christmas, and I would like to share one of my memories with you.

Back when I was nine years old I lived in a place called south Baltimore. Our house was on Grindall Street and is located in the rear of Federal Hill Park which overlooks the Baltimore harbor. Now that had to be the coolest place to be when youíre a kid because I had a park practically in my back yard. Back then they hadnít developed the Baltimore inner harbor yet so during the day there werenít many people around on weekdays so sometimes it seemed like I had the park all to myself. So between sliding down the park hills on cardboard while trying to jump off before I was dumped onto Key highway in the path of a truck, and hanging around the old factories on the waterfront, life seemed to be good.

The only thing that topped all that fun was getting my fifty cents allowance each weekend and going to see a double feature at the old Mchenry Theater down on Light Street. I would always go to the Cross Street market first and spend half of my money on various fruits like a bunch of grapes and maybe pears or apples and a nickels worth of peanuts. It wasnít that I was health conscious, itís just that I got much more for my quarter compared to the usual Boston baked beans and other delights from the movies candy machine. Of course the old man taking the tickets would always look in my bag just to see if I had any bottles or what ever a pre terrorist era eighty year old movie usher would look for. But thatís just me setting the scene for you so I can tell you about a man who gave me the greatest gift that I have ever received.

I would always leave the movies early each week so I could spend time staring through the window of a pawnshop across from the market. It was lined with beautiful guitars! My eyes would caress every curve and angle of each of these shiny colorful dreams that were hanging with gleam as the old florescent lights brought them to life. The odd thing was that I knew deep in my heart that there was no way that a kid like me was ever going to own one of those beauties, but I kept on torturing myself every weekend. And to add to my frustration, there just happened to be a lot of Elvis Presley movies coming out at that time and even though they just added salt to my wounds, I think I saw every one of them. And when the movie was over as I was walking up the hill, there would always be the sound of guitars playing that came from an old store front that had news paper taped to the window so you couldnít see in. I would always stop outside and listen to these people that my mother used to call ďhillbilliesĒ, even in the freezing cold.

This particular Christmas was very cold! And by this time my hopes were starting to drop very low when it came to ever having a guitar. So on Christmas Eve 1961, after practically freezing my toes off outside the old store front window listening to someone singing ďGood night IreneĒ, I went home to our little row house on a hill and stared at the Christmas tree that my mom always worked so hard on while wondering what toys I was going to get the next day.

On the next morning I had the usual Christmas mania seeping from every pore in my body and of course I headed for the tree to find what ever treasure had my name on it. The a train was running around the track that curved itís way through a little Christmas ďgardenĒ town that was under the tree and if I recall, chestnuts ďthe Christmas songĒ was playing on the old wooden radio. You know to this day I canít recall what toys were under that tree, but I do know that after they were opened, there was one more surprise that forever has changed my life. And I still canít remember if it was wrapped, hidden, or just handed to me. But I do remember the feeling of holding my very first guitar.

Though it wasnít one of those electric dream machines that I dreamed about, this little gray cowboy looking acoustic guitar had just become my best friend. Now usually that was the time that my mom would give me her short speech on taking care of my presents because she had to work overtime to get them (Santa usually to the back seat when it came to working overtime). But much to my surprise, she didnít say much about the guitar except ďyour brother bought that for youĒ. I had no idea at the time where he got the money but from that day on I saw my brother in a different light.

Now I know that some of you are thinking back to the beginning of the article when I said something about remembering gifts compare to experiences youíve had. And this is where I get to tell you the meaning of this story.
You see my brother and i were kind of drifting apart because of our age difference. He was in his teens and he had a group that he hung around with and he didnít need a nine year old messing up that environment. Of course I understand all that now but back then I felt like my one and only brother was drifting away from me. There wasnít anyone to show me the new issue of a Superman comic book. There was no one to sneak around with at night down by the Pepsi Cola plant and look for a truck that someone left open so we could sit on the hill overlooking the shipyard and drink warm soda. So maybe at first I just thought that he bought me the guitar to make up for lost time. But along with this wonderful gift came encouragement that I never expected.

He would make sure that every night when the lights went out in our room; there would be a stack of 45rpm records on a little stereo that previously seemed to be only for him and his friends. I can remember falling asleep with the sound of the Ventures and other guitar records that he didnít used to have in his collection. And we were talking again about music and he would tell me the names of the guitar players on the songs. I would try to pick out a little riff on a record and he would tell his friends that I could play the whole song. I know now that he did that for a reason and that it made me work harder. Then before you know it I was at the little parties that my brother would throw at our house on Friday nights when my mom was out. I remember collecting money from them all at the end of the night not just for the entertainment, but for keeping my mouth shut. I think it was my brotherís idea. I guess he was my first agent.

We never had money for lessons but he would keep telling me to practice and I could be as good as I wanted to be. Not long after that he joined the marines and I was very proud of him. His nickname is ďLuckyĒ but this was one time in his life that the name didnít fit. The Vietnam War was in full swing and they shipped him over to fight people that Iíve never heard of. When I think back I can still feel the fear from watching the news every night and my mom and me worrying about him. Thank God he wasnít killed. He was hurt from some kind of explosion but something else happen to him in this senseless war. Some how it changed him and he became very quite and only talked a lot when he would drink. Even though he still thought his little brother was the best, it was never the same as before. I heard about things like Agent Orange and other poisons the government used on our unsung heroes but Iím really not sure what it was.

Through the years we were together in different living situations but he was always so quiet that it was like living alone. But the impact of his presence in my life is still with me. Even from Vietnam he managed some how to send me my first electric guitar on which I played in my first bands. And from that guitar I wrote my first little song and then later dedicated my life to music. And because of him my fingers are now writing the music magazine that now reaches around the world.

Lucky and I havenít talked in years since I moved to St. Croix, but thatís got to be my fault. Heís the one that went to Vietnam, not me. Heís always at the other end of the phone and itís me that to busy to picked it up. So now after writing this most important article that not only tells you my best Christmas story, and letís the people from all the countries that read it know who my real Santa was, youíll have to excuse me. I am going to call my brother.
Merry Christmas

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