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Irwin: Secret Santa
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When I was around 12 years old, it occurred to me that the season we call Christmas has, within it, several glitter-coated mini-seasons. Because of the length of the season, and how it tries the forbearance of even the most long-suffering of folks, it is easy for kids to discern the two categories of grown-ups.

Those are...

Wise Grown-ups  — those who remember childhood and Not-So-Wise Grown-ups — those who have forgotten what it is like to be a kid.

Some of these grown-ups can be spotted by the clichés they may employ in regards to the passing of time.

Children are keenly aware of the coming of Christmas and they will begin talking about it in the autumn. Unwise grown-ups will sneer at such youth. These grown-ups will become impatient, and they will declare insipid things like, “Christmas will be here before you know it.” This is simply a silly thing to say; if Christmas arrived before a kid knew it, the kid would sleep late on Dec. 25.

On the contrary, every wise grown-up knows that time flies during adulthood, but not so much when you are a child. These grown-ups know that childhood requires a lot of waiting. Wise grown-ups know that, for a lot of children, Christmas preparation begins in October when the directors of church choirs, school choruses, and bands, pass out the holiday music. The rehearsals for the most wonderful time of the year are well underway. How can a child not take notice? That is why when a wise grown-up needs to tell a child to hurry up, they might say, “You are as slow as Christmas.” Yep, children get that one.

Finally, the calendar turns to December. Now Christmas really get rolling.

Soon it is time for whatever group a kid is part of to have Secret Santa.

Let me tell you, I love me some Secret Santa!  

My favorite Secret Santa memory surfaced a couple of weeks ago when I was sipping brew in the new coffee joint on the Town Square known as Bread & Butter, which replaced the Thai restaurant, which replaced the deli, which replaced the third incarnation of People’s Drug Store, which replaced the generations-old White’s Department Store.

Ah yes, there was something particularly grand to a boy about White’s Department Store; it was the official supplier for Boy Scout gear!  White’s sold Boy Scout cook kits and canteens and backpacks and cutlery sets, and all manner of things that could be attached to your belt or dangled on your person from a strap, much like Gilligan as he launched the S. S. Minnow.  Oh, how I remember the pageantry of being fitted for my Cub Scout uniform by Mr. Charles Wellborn. When I made my first rank advancement and became a Bear Cub, my mom took me straight to White’s and ceremoniously bought me a Cub Scout pocket knife. Yes, you heard me. It had a cutting blade and a can opener and a bottle opener and a hole punch and a lanyard loop so you could hang it around your neck and everybody would know you were toting a knife. Cool.  

Of course, compared to older, olive-drabbed Boy Scouts, we Cub Scouts were well aware of our diminutive status, be-capped as we were in our little, blue “freshman beanies” which our grandmothers deemed “cute.” We longed to hurry up and become taller and smellier, Boy Scouts, donning garrison caps and boots and leggings just like the Norman Rockwell illustration of the young man on the Boy Scout Handbook. (That waving Scout was, himself, carrying a Boy Scout Handbook with a picture of a Scout waving and carrying a Boy Scout Handbook with a picture of a Scout waving and carrying a Boy Scout Handbook…)  We Cub Scouts could not wait to grow up and “follow the rugged road.”

Eventually, of course, I did become a full-fledged Scout. It was within my first couple of weeks as a Tenderfoot when I was in White’s with my mother. She was looking for a scarf for some lady for a birthday present. I was perusing the Scout gear, when I found the one item that would prove that I was old enough and responsible enough to perform minor, yet life-saving, surgery.

It was the official Scout snake bite kit!

Okay, so this is the snake bite kit: imagine half-a-wiener, hollow, made of rubber. It unscrews in the middle, and inside is a scalpel (x-acto knife), an alcohol swab, a string for a tourniquet. What you were supposed to do was cut off the supply of blood with the string, swab everything, make crisscross incisions on each of the fang holes, and suck out the poison with the hotdog suction cups.

I ran with the snake bite kit to show my mom. She took it from me, opened it up, studied it for a bit, and uttered, “What the h_ _ _ .” (Anybody who remembers my mother knows that, for her, this was not really cussing.)

We bolted from White’s, the snake bite kit — unpaid for — still in my mother’s hand. We marched straight to the Bank of Covington (now BB&T), and bolted upstairs to the office of Roscoe Sams, M.D.

Dr. Sams was one of the world’s oldest doctors. He was gruff and funny and had giant hands which he tended to clap explosively when giving an order. He still walked around town with a gladstone doctor’s bag. When he gave a shot he would command, “Say, ‘ow.’

I’d say, “ow.”

He’d say, “Louder.”




And it was over.

My mom and I made our way back into Dr. Sams chambers where he was reading the paper. He said, “Good morning, Tootsie.”

My mom handed him the kit and said, "Dr. Sams, look what they are selling to eleven-year-old boys at White’s.”

Dr Sams studied the snake bite kit and uttered, “Huh.” He picked up the telephone receiver and dialed a number he knew by heart. I could hear the line ringing from the earpiece of the old 1920s phone... a fourth ring … a fifth ring. Dr. Sams looked at me and said, “They are as slow as Christmas.” Somebody picked up and he said, “E.G.? Roscoe Sams. Miss Tootsie is at my office with a rubber hot dog lookin’ snake bit kit that I presume she shoplifted.”  He lifted his eyes to her for confirmation. “Yes…. Um-hum. Yes. This thing is a silly and dangerous. Discontinue them, please. ...Yes… Thank you. Bye.” He looked at me and said, “Now, Andy, it is only acceptable to use a rubber snake bite kit if you are bitten by a rubber snake.”

When White’s Department Store discontinued the snake bite kit, it only meant that they stopped ordering more kits. That Christmas, the Troop 58 Secret Santa had a one-dollar spending limit. The snake bite kit had cost $2.50. To get rid of the stock, White’s reduced the kits to 45¢. Therefore every kid in Troop 58 got a snake bite kit from their Secret Santa, except for Pat Wiggins. Pat got an official Boy Scout slotted coin purse. Because I was his Secret Santa.

A native of Covington, Andy Offutt Irwin is a nationally renowned storyteller, humorist, singer, songwriter, musician, whistler and human noise maker. Andy’s take on small town life has resulted in 10 albums, 1000s of shows, and many awards, including the 2013 Oracle Circle of Excellence from the National Storytelling Network. He can be reached at