Monday, September 10, 2018

From the Top of the Hill # 9: December 18, 1947

Here's the Christmas edition of John D MacDonald 1947-1948 newspaper column, From the Top of the Hill, published in the Clinton Courier. I've posted this one before, or at least most of it. It's contains a great story, a very early example of MacDonald's amazing eye for detail.

This is a true Christmas story. 

In 1941 we were working in Rochester in the Mercantile Building which is just across the main drag from McCurdy's Department Store.

In the interests of good clean fun and advertising, McCurdy's had installed that year, in a front window, one of those huge bellowing Santa Clauses, three times life size, which rocks and rolls and slaps his crimson thigh with a hand as big as a ham.

Those particular monsters were quite a novelty in 1941, and the one at McCurdy's collected crowds of people who stood and laughed along with him, mildly hypnotized by the repetitive motions. There was something mammoth and awe inspiring about him, and if you stood too close to the plate glass, he gave you a vague sense of alarm.

Anyway, we went to work quite early one morning, before the stores were open and before the streets were crowded. Probably by prior arrangement with the orphanage concerned the big mechanical Santa had been activated and there he was, roaring and rocking and slapping his leg as he looked out at the empty street.

We were about to pass him by when we saw, coming from the opposite direction, about forty moppets in column of twos herded by two Sisters. It was a nice idea, bringing the little people down to see that over-size Santa. Having watched the parents of little children try to hush their horrified screams after one glance at the monster, we had a pretty fair idea of what would happen when those orderly kids arrived in front of the window.

We stuck around to watch.

The little people slowed their steps when they came close to the window, alarmed by the bellowing alone. When they got right up to him, all discipline vanished. They were green troops in the presence of the enemy. The wailing of the kids made almost as much noise as the bellowing of the Santa. About thirty of the forty tried to find refuge behind the billowing skirts of the Sisters, and the remaining ten, petrified, stood and watched the horrible giant.

They had been led to expect a mild, fat, jolly little man with a twinkle in his eye, and here was something the size of a small bungalow which made as much noise as a locomotive.

One little man broke from shelter, and with doubled fists and pumping legs, began to make time back in the direction from which he had come. In three running steps, a Sister got hold of him, but in so doing left numerous others exposed. They lost no time getting behind her again.

It appears that in all humor there must be elements of tragedy. It was sad and funny to think of the gap between anticipation and the actuality.

At that precise moment, the mechanical Santa broke into flames.

He couldn't have picked a worse time to acquire a short circuit in his red flannels. The Sisters were equal to the occasion. By superhuman effort, they got their little wards back into a column of twos and led them to the nearest crosswalk and across the street. A man on our side of the street put in the alarm while we were still thinking about it.

One of the most horrible sights we ever saw was that Santa Claus. If the fire had stopped him cold, it wouldn't have been so bad. But it apparently didn't damage his mechanism.

While the flames roared up around him, devouring his whiskers, he kept rocking back and forth, slapping himself on the leg with an arm which had turned into skeletal wires, and the sound of his, “Wah! Hah! Hah! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!” still roared in the empty street.

The little people clutched each other and their eyes bulged. After much effort, the Sisters got the line moving again and they went back down the street. But every little head was turned and every small mouth sagged open.

The fire engines came quickly and, as they squirted some kind of foam on Santa, he stopped moving and the sound of his laughter was stilled.

When the curtains in the Store window were drawn across the scene of horror, we turned away and went up to the office.

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In last week's item on the hard water in Clinton, we left out one statistic which we would dearly love to have. We would like to know the total annual cost to all Clintonians in both cash and frayed dispositions.

Apparently a municipal water softening plant would cost fifty thousand plus. That is a very respectable hunk of money. But we don't feel that it is too much. The direct and indirect cost to Clintonians of using the present water would doubtless exceed that figure over a ten year period. Thus it can be said that we pay for water softening equipment every ten years without ever getting it.

Possibly the financial blow could be lightened by pegging the tax rate higher than village requirements and accumulating a reserve over a period of a few years so that the debt burden would not be too high.

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Will someone who knows the Telephone Company's answer to the last petition about rates please get in touch with us.

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Traffic continues to wallow around the square in both directions. Have you ruined any fenders lately?

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See you next week.

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