Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Santa and Me - Part 2

                                                             © 2010 Linda Goodman

                                       (This is part 2 of my story. Part 1 posted on December 8.)

            What could I do but play along?  And I must admit that when I awakened on the Christmas day that Morgan was three years old, the first year she was aware of all the hoopla, I was thrilled to hear her sit up and bed and loudly call out, “Did he come?”
            Then I watched in awe as she walked downstairs and entered the wonderland of toys that her pawpaw and her daddy had assembled for her.  She went from one to the other, hugging her new doll, playing her new keyboard, unpacking her tea set….. Finally laughing in delight as she spotted the empty plate and glass that had held cookies and milk for Santa.
            She was in awe when she found the letter that Santa had left for her. She was smiling and crying at the same time as her mother read the letter to her. I must admit that I shed a few tears of my own as I watched her big blue eyes widen with wonder.
And now this same child was asking me, “Mawmaw, is Santa Claus pretend?”

I decided to answer her question with a question.  “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” she replied, “a boy in my class is telling everybody that Santa Claus is pretend.”
I asked another question. “What do you think?”
She thought for a moment.  “Well, Mawmaw, he is awful fat.  How can somebody that fat fit down a chimbley?”
This was going to be tough, but I was up for it.  “Morgan, remember when we found that mouse in my house, and you asked me how it got in?  Remember I told you that mice could collapse their bodies to a quarter of an inch and slip in through a heating grate?”
She nodded.
I continued.  “Well, Santa is magic!  Just like a mouse, he can collapse his body so that it’s small enough to slide down any chimney.”
“But, Mawmaw, sometimes I’m at my house on Christmas, and sometimes I’m at your house, and sometimes I’m at Granny Annie’s.  How does Santa always know where to bring my toys?”
“I write him a letter every November to let him know where you will be.”
“But your fireplace has glass in the front of it.  How does Santa get through that without breaking it or cutting himself?”
“Your Pawpaw is very handy.  He takes the glass out of the fireplace after you go to bed, and he puts it back after Santa leaves.”
“How does Santa get into houses that don’t have chimbleys?
“For those houses, Santa has a magic key that opens any door.”
Now she really looked confused.  “If Santa has a key that opens any door, why does he bother with chimbleys at all?”
I was running out of answers.  “Have you asked your mom about this?”
She looked up at me with trusting blue eyes. “Yes, I did ask Mommy, but I know that you will tell me the truth.”

I was in a quandary.  I did not want to be the one to tell her that Santa Claus was not real; yet, if I withheld the truth now, she might never trust me again.  How could I extricate myself from this dilemma?
Suddenly, out of nowhere, an image of an 8 x 10 black and white photo, lying underneath a row of hanging file folders in a drawer of the cabinet in my office, filled my head.
“Just a minute, honey,” I told her as I ran from the room.  “I’ll be right back!”
I hurried to the filing cabinet in my office and searched as fast as my fingers would sift. In the third drawer down, I found what I wanted, just as my unexpected image had shown me.
Quickly I ran back to Morgan. “Here!” I gushed as I handed her the photo.  “This is a picture signed by the man himself!”
She stared at the black and white photo.  “What did he sign his name Sergeant Santa?”
“Uhm….that’s what the elves call him,” I improvised.  “It’s like a boot camp in the North Pole around Christmas time!”
She traced his beard with her index finger.  She ran her fingers across his signature.  “I knew he was real,” she whispered.
The following Monday, Morgan took that photo to school with her and showed it to all her friends who had been told that Santa was just pretend.  Together they confronted the bully who had tried to shake their faith, showing him proof that Santa was real.  My daughter told me that Morgan became a heroine to her classmates.

A few years later, my daughter called to tell me that Morgan had found out that Santa was a myth.
“Who told her?”  I asked.
“Nobody told her,” I was informed.  “Her class was studying aerodynamics and she figured it out all by herself.”
I asked to speak to Morgan.  When she came to the phone, I asked her if she was okay.
“Sure, Mawmaw,” she replied.  “It’s just Santa.  It’s not like it was God or anything.  But, you know, it was fun to believe for a while.  I think I will probably pretend that I still believe.  You know, for my baby sister.”  She paused before adding, “It’s like that storytelling thing you always say – Just because it can’t happen doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”

Morgan still has the picture I gave her, and I’m sure that Sergeant Santa would be happy to know that one of his autographed black and white photos is tacked to the bulletin board in the room of a fourteen year old girl in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
As for myself, I still have mixed feelings about Santa Claus.  I still cringe when I see parents spend enough money to buy a full month’s food supply on toys that lose their luster after a few weeks, while so many others struggle just to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.  There is something tragically wrong with that scenario.

And yet, I cannot help but fondly remember the thrill of that magic Christmas long ago, when I heard a three-year-old girl calling, “Did he come?”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Santa and Me - Part 1

© 2010 Linda Goodman

(This is part 1 of my story. Part 2 will be posted next week.)

            On August 21, 2010, Dalton Duling died.  Duling’s alter ego, Sergeant Santa, was a legend in the greater Richmond area.  A former police sergeant, he spent the last thirty-seven years of his life bringing Christmas to children who would not otherwise have had much to celebrate. 
            As I read his obituary, I remembered that my husband, Phil, had once worked with Duling’s wife, Dale.   She had given Phil an 8 by 10 autographed glossy black and white photo of Sergeant Santa for our granddaughter Morgan. Phil asked me to put the photo in a safe place until we saw Morgan again.  I put it in a place that was so safe, I forgot where it was.
            During a visit when Morgan was five years old, she asked me, “Mawmaw, is Santa Claus pretend?”
            I was not quite sure how to answer that question.  I myself had a checkered past with Santa. In the mountains, where I was born, Santa did not come to our small, one-room house. Daddy said that our roof would not support a sleigh with eight reindeer, no matter how tiny they were. 
Santa did, however, come through the area on a train, which stopped at various stations along its route so that presents could be dropped off for children in the region.  Several books have been written about the Santa Train.  Most of these books tell joy-filled stories.  Daddy did not allow me or my siblings to go to the Santa Train.  That would have been accepting charity, which my father frowned upon.  We did, however, hear the stories told by friends who had gone to meet the train.  Many of those stories were completely devoid of joy. A small child could get a decent present only if he was accompanied by an older sibling.  Otherwise, the big kids overran the smaller ones in a winner take all scenario. Most of the stories that I heard were heartbreaking.
Santa did come to our house once we moved to the city (for some reason, it was not charity if Santa came to our apartment).  For Christmas in the city, I usually got an orange, a couple of walnuts, and some paper dolls that looked like something my father would have made.  Meanwhile, the rich kids (to me, a rich kid was any kid who lived in a home that wasn’t missing shingles) got Betsy Wetsy dolls and cap guns.  Clearly, Santa liked rich kids better. 
            My best friend, Carole Ann, spent one Christmas with a foster family. She told me that the real kids got great gifts.  The boy got a set of GI Joe figurines, and the girl got a Candy Fashion doll with three evening gowns (not dresses – evening gowns!).  Carole Ann said all she got was some underwear and a knock-off Barbie doll whose clothes fell apart when she changed them.  I was incensed!  How could Santa show such favoritism when rich and poor were in the same house?  He was downright mean!
            When I found out that Santa was not real, I was relieved.  I found it comforting to know that there was no cosmic master of the toy universe who denied poor kids their due at Christmas time.
            When I had a child of my own, I decided that she would not be tortured, as I had been, by the Santa myth.  As soon as Melanie was old enough to speak, I taught her to say “No Santa!”  The first time she saw Santa at a shopping mall, though, she pointed at him and insisted, “See, Mommy, he is real!”
            I told her to go ahead and sit on his lap, but to be sure to feel the backs of his ears for the hooks that held his beard in place.  She did just that, later admitting, somewhat reluctantly,” It’s true, Mommy.  He’s not real.”
            “That right,” I affirmed. “There is no man in a red suit flying through the air in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer.  Your single mother buys what she can afford for your Christmas.  That’s what all parents do.”

            Of course, the next school day she told all her classmates that Santa was a fake.  Her shocked and disapproving teacher gave her detention for the next three days, leaving her traumatized for some time to come.  In fact, eighteen years later, when I walked into her hospital room, my arms reaching for my new granddaughter, Morgan, Melanie held her baby close and growled, “This child will believe in Santa Claus!”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Speak Up Spoken Word for the Arts Comes to Union County, NC

Speak Up Spoken Word Open Mike for the Arts is coming to Union County. It will be hosted by Faye Fulton and Linda Goodman, both of whom are professional storytellers. Beginning January 8, 2015, the event will be held on the second Thursday of each month in the community room at the UCCAC building, 120 N. Main Street in historic downtown Monroe. We will start at 7:00 PM and go until 9:00 PM. Each person who wants to speak will get 10 minutes (max). Faye and Linda will use the sound of a whistle to signal the end of your 10 minute time limit.

Storytellers, poets, comedians, singers, writers, and musicians are all welcome. Each week we will have a Featured Performer who goes on at 8:30 PM for half an hour. Our first three speakers will be musician and storyteller Ken Halstead, of Waxhaw, NC (January 8), storyteller Martha Reed  Johnson, of Florence SC (February 12), and Lona Bartlett, of Charlotte, NC (March 12). A hat will be passed to get gas money so the feature can get home.

Speak Up is the brain child of Tony Toledo, a professional storyteller who resides in Beverly, Massachusetts. Tony has been successfully hosting Speak Up Spoken Word Open Mic in Lynn, MA for almost a decade. Although the Lynn, MA group started small, in 2010 they had to move to a larger venue due to its popularity. We expect Union County to have the same success. Linda sought Tony’s permission to use the Speak Up name in Union County, and he said, “Go for it!”

Faye Fulton and Linda Goodman are both on UCCAC’s Artist Directory. They both share a love for storytelling and the spoken word, and they are excited about bringing Speak Up Spoken Word to Union County.

Anyone seeking more information, or would like to be considered as a future feature, should call Faye Fulton at 704-421-3220 or email her at

See you at Speak Up Union County!

Monday, November 24, 2014


by Linda Goodman    
©Linda Goodman 1996

            When my family lived in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, the food that we ate at our Thanksgiving Day meal was the same as what we ate on any other day: soup beans and cornbread.  Occasionally, there would be meat, if Daddy had been out hunting. 

            What made the meal different was a ritual that my Daddy insisted upon observing on Thanksgiving.  Before eating, each of us sitting around the table would, one by one, give thanks for that for which he or she was most grateful.  Not having much in the way of material possessions, our thanks usually were given for treasured relationships.  One year, after I had recovered from a severe bout with pneumonia, I was surprised to hear my brothers give thanks for my survival.  It changed the way I felt about them, and their constant teasing was easier to take after that.  I gave thanks for my new baby sister.  Mama was thankful for well-behaved children, and Daddy was thankful that he had been blessed with children who were thinkers.  If you use your head, you will come out ahead, he always said.

            When we moved to the city, Thanksgiving remained the same.  My parents refused to assimilate into the city culture, and so our meals and rituals never changed.  We children eventually adopted city ways, but Mama and Daddy held to the old ways until their deaths. 

            The Thanksgiving after they passed away, my sister and her family came to spend the holiday with me in Connecticut.  I fixed a traditional meal of turkey, dressing, and various side dishes.  Before eating, my sister and I decided to reinstate the old ritual that we had taken part in so often.  One by one our children gave thanks.  My daughter was thankful for the new dress she had gotten for the Christmas dance at school.  My nephew was thankful for his Nintendo.  My niece was glad that her allowance had been increased.  No one mentioned family or friends.

            I abandoned the ritual after that.  It just was not the same with its new emphasis on material possessions.  On Thanksgiving day, we have a bountiful meal and good companionship.  Everyone seems happy.  But I always make sure to take a few minutes alone to give thanks for the wonderful man who taught me that it is not who you are, but how you live, that matters most; and that anyone who has a loving family is rich indeed.

In This Time of Goodness and Light....

I am approaching the holiday with a great deal of sadness. During the past week, 5 of my friends have lost loved ones; 2 of those 5 friends lost children (as a parent, I do not see how anything could be worse than that). During this same week, 3 of my friends have lost jobs, and another was told that her job is on the line. In all 3 cases, those losing their jobs are the family breadwinners. 2 are the sole source of income for their families. Others I know have been unemployed for months or years. Some of them are starting to lose hope in this "strong" economy. I find it hard to rejoice or be thankful when those I care about are suffering. It reminds me of my own dark journeys; times when my own holiday spirit was compromised by fear, anxiety, and dread. Somehow, I was lead to the light at the end of the tunnel, even though I could not see it. I did not have the confidence needed to make it there on my own. I believe that God took my hand and guided me there when I was "blind." 

Today, I have an abundance of blessings. Knowing that I do not deserve them makes me wonder why I have been so blessed. 

I pray that my friends in need (indeed, all those in need), will get the same guidance that I got as they travel through what is supposed to be the most joyous season of the year. May they all end up with an embarrassment of riches.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Daughters of the Appalachians on NSN Autumn Auction List

Please consider bidding on my donation to the National Storytelling Network's Autumn Auction:

Author/Storyteller/Playwright Linda Goodman's one-woman show Daughters of the Appalachians introduces six unique women, each of whom offers a rare glimpse of a culture that is fast fading away. Meet Harlene, whose dog is both her anchor and her best friend; Boojie, whose star-crossed lover changed her life; Nellveda Hawkins, who may or may not be the devil incarnate; Sara Jane, a woman who understands true beauty; Jessie, who should have been more careful with her wishes; and Martha Potter, an elder who understands simple truths. As you share their joys and sorrows, these women will touch your soul and live in your heart.

"So far the show has been a perfect storm: a worthy original production, based on character studies of people who often get overlooked by mainstream America, produced at a time when they have been thrust front and center on the national stage."
-J.C. Lockwood,Newburyport Current, Jan. 13, 2006

90 minute performance with one intermission, valued at $750. Starting bid: $250

Linda Goodman will donate up to 2 hours travel by car. Purchaser must pay for travel more than 2 hours away. 

Overnight lodging must be provided if an evening show is desired.

To bid on this item, go to

All proceeds of this auction will go towards NSN Member Grants.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

One Eye Open

© Linda Goodman, October 2014

            In January 7, 1978, two days after my daughter’s sixth birthday, I invited my parents to dinner for a late birthday celebration. I took them to my father’s favorite place to eat, the York Steak House at Tower Mall in Portsmouth, Virginia.
            A good meal and a good time were had by all… until the waiter brought the check. The amount was about what I had figured it would be. What I had not taken into account (because I did not know) was that the York Steak House did not accept credit cards, and I had no cash on my person.
            My father said it was no big deal. He would take care of the check. My mother, however, felt differently. She was angry and accused me of purposely not bringing any money with me. I could see that she was on the verge of creating a scene, so I stepped outside to wait, as my parents and my daughter stayed inside until the check was paid.
            As I waited, I noticed a man approaching me. I guessed he was in his mid thirties. His black hair was plastered back on his head with Brill Cream. He was of medium height and weight, and he was wearing a thin, tan jacket and khaki pants. His right arm was in a sling.
            “Hi,” he greeted me, “I’m wondering if you can give me a hand? I have some packages I am trying to get into my van, and this bum arm is giving me a problem. Will you please come out to the parking lot with me and give me some help.”
            Normally, I would not have hesitated to help this man, but two things occurred to me: he spoke in a monotone, with no inflection at all in his voice; and why hadn’t he asked the man standing across from me for help? That man was certainly much bigger and stronger than me.
            Then I looked into the man’s eyes and my blood ran cold. His pupils were dilated to the point that his eyes looked black. No emotion, good or bad, shone through them; only a dead, remote stare. My instincts told me to beware.
            But what if my instincts were wrong? I did not know how he had hurt his arm. What if he had hit his head at the same time? Could that be the reason behind the emotionless voice and the dazed stare?            
            I found the perfect compromise between my alert instincts and my soft-hearted compassion. “My father is inside the restaurant paying our bill,” I told the man. “Wait here with me for a few minutes, and we will both help you.”
            The man who had been standing across from me had walked away by this time. The man with the sling took another step toward me, but stopped suddenly, turned, and walked quickly away as he saw my father coming out of the restaurant door.
            “Who was that?” my father asked me.
            “I don’t know,” I answered, “but you can be sure that he was up to no good.”

            I shared this story with people as the years passed. I saw it as a cautionary tale and used it to warn naive, unsuspecting girls (like myself) to pay attention to their instincts; to keep one eye open for suspicious signs, while pondering compassion for a stranger.
black-and-white photo of a man with piercing eyes            In 2006 a friend gave me a copy of Ann Rule’s book The Stranger Beside Me. The book was about serial killer Ted Bundy. I read with interest that was spiced with terror as Rule painted a picture of a man who was a master at finding clever ways to lure women into his death traps. One thing that worked time and time again was to put his arm in a sling and ask for help.  His prey of choice was young women with long, dark hair parted down the middle.
            I remembered that evening as I stood outside the York Steak House, my long, dark hair parted down the middle. I remembered the brooding man with his arm in a sling. He could not have been Ted Bundy, I told myself. Bundy was incarcerated in Utah in 1975.
            But as I read on, though, I discovered that Bundy had escaped from prison twice. The second time was on December 30, 1977. By January 2, 1978, he was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Five days later he stole a car and drove it to Atlanta, where he boarded a bus and arrived in Tallahassee, Florida on January 8.
            Bundy could very well have come through Virginia as he drove from Michigan to Atlanta. Could he have been the man who approached me on the evening of January 7, 1978? I turned to the headshot of Bundy at the back of the book. The photo was black and white, and thirty-eight years had passed. He looked like the man, but I could not be sure. One thing I do know: the black, dead, remote eyes were identical. Could two men have had those same eyes? I do not know; but I have learned to always follow my instincts, which tend towards the paranoid these days. On January 7, 1978, I believe, those instincts saved my life.