Gaye LeBaron: Remembering Santa Rosa’s Christmas stories
“Never a Christmas morning, never an old year ends, but someone thinks of someone, old days, old times, old friends.”
Just the mention of old days, in the season to be jolly, sets me chasing memories. From the time the “Jingle Bells” starts, it rattles around in my mind, until the last candy cane falls from the tree. It jump-starts recollection of those oft-told seasonal tales that come back like old friends at the Little Drummer Boy’s first pa-rum-pa-pum-pum of the holidays.
Let me assure you, there are enough classic Christmas stories in this old town’s history to keep a stand-up comic in a Santa suit on his feet for hours.
One of them, in fact, is about a Santa suit.
That would be Addie Whitesell, who rode her bicycle around Rincon Valley in the mid-20th century, delivering her Avon products, and, in the season, was Santa Claus.
She began in 1959 in a homemade Santa outfit and cotton beard, visiting the neighbor kids. She enjoyed it so much that when her husband in 1962 gave her $100 with instructions to “buy yourself something nice for Christmas,” she went to FAO Schwartz in San Francisco (ahh, the memories) and bought a high-fashion Santa suit. It included a silky beard, which she referred to as “my fur piece.”
For 25 years, at Christmastime, the sight of Addie, sometimes on her bicycle, in her designer Santa suit was everywhere — parades, schools, holiday parties, or on front porches with Avon deliveries and toys if there were children.
Addie was 85 when she died in 1995, not so very long after a broken hip ended her long run as Santa.
Another Santa story which has etched itself into the collective memory of those who heard it firsthand happened on a late December night more than 50 years ago on the street known as Christmas Tree Lane.
That decorated neighborhood was probably the first, the progenitor of Walnut Court and all the other pockets of electronic wizardry we have today.
The line of slow-moving cars and crowded sidewalks dates to the late 1950s when a contractor named Cal Chamberlain, who lived in the 2900 block of Hartley Drive, bought a pickup load of Christmas trees. He went door-to-door, including on the winding streets — Hermit Way and Webb Drive — between Montgomery Drive and Santa Rosa Creek, giving the trees to neighbors and rallying them to decorate, decorate, decorate.
Most did just that. And still do. And resident Carl Bell took it a step further and spent chilly evenings handing out candy canes as the first of a long line of Christmas Tree Lane Santa Clauses.
This neighborly enthusiasm produced some remarkable tableaus, not the least of which was an amazingly patient boxer dog that sat every night next to the sleigh in a lawn display — wearing antlers.
Among the participating families was that of BB and Jim Stockman (Jim being one of the developers involved in the creation of the Flamingo Hotel here).
The Stockman family lived on Hermit Way and had a fine display, with an inflatable Santa, on the front porch.