Back in the 60's, Santa Claus was everywhere! In Youngstown and most other vibrant suburbs at the time, Santa seemed to be on every corner and in the Mega Department Stores that dotted the landscape.
Of course, The Thanksgiving Parade marked the start of the Holiday Season. We all turned out to see the floats of local merchants, bands, scouting groups, and military organizations. The highlight was Santa always at the end, sitting on top of the Fire Truck. He would toss handfuls of candy to youngsters that were darting on and off the curb, risking life and limb for a Jolly Rancher. The Firemen would keep the siren wailing at full blast, creating a decibel-splitting shriek to cause everyone to cover their ears. No wonder a lot of Dalmatians are deaf!
On shopping trips to Downtown Youngstown with my mother and older sisters, I was allowed to roam anywhere I wanted to. Before the days of cell phones, we just had to check-in every half hour, usually just going to where we parked the car. I knew better than to miss the appointed hour or half-hour, mom was a firm believer of "Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child."
On many of our excursions, I would visit Santa Claus At Mc Kelvey's and Strouss' department stores. I was in First Grade and somebody in class broke it to me about the real deal of Santa Claus. I suspected it for some time, but figured if I kept believing, I'd get more presents. In any event, I went to see Santa and usually there wouldn't be much of a line. I'd spit out my usual banter of what I wanted and he would hand me a large candy cane and a coloring book when we were done. I then headed to the competing store and went through the same process. If the lines were busy I would go two or three times to each and collect a bagful of candy and coloring material. I had it down to a science.
Quite often in my hometown of Struthers, the local merchants would sponsor Santa to appear nights and weekends at The Fifth Street Plaza. Fat, old St. Nick sure sounded like the policeman I knew that my buddy had just yelled, "Come and get us, Fat Ass!" to a few weeks earlier when we were exploring sewers, not far away. I had visions of Santa slapping the cuffs on us. Needless to say, we avoided this particular Santa on our many trips to Isaly's and Ben Franklin's Five and Ten.
Funny how things go Full Circle in life...Fast Forward 25 years, I was now a Full-Time Fire Engineer on The Struthers Fire Department. Guess who has to drive the Fire Truck in The Holiday Parade? Yup, you guessed it! My instructions to Santa Claus were pretty simple: Throw the candy far on to the sidewalk,(I didn't want to run over a Rug Rat!), and if he touched the siren, he wouldn't need a wink and a nod to get down the chimney, I'd be helping him with a Firemen's Boot!