Lively and quick, certainly but not Saint Nick
In a season dominated by the image of a somewhat portly, jolly man in a red suit, I find myself thinking about my own experiences with Santa. Except in my case, Santa was a not at all portly, rather surly camp ranger who exclusively wore camp T-shirt that he had cut the sleeves off of. I am not speaking of our dear Richard Whipple but another of his profession, who cemented my appreciation for the very specific species of man known as ranger or caretaker or maintenance manager or some derivation therein.
His name is Phil and he referred to all of us, regardless of age or number of years at camp, as “Young Lady.” He was taciturn on the best of days and he smoked continuously but if you ever needed anything, he would be there, arriving in a pick-up that became more dented with each passing year. One year, after asking for an extension cord at breakfast, I returned to my tent (which, in this case, was an actual 2 man pop-up tent due to a surplus of CT’s and a shortage of platform tents in the unit) and found it inside the entry way. Phil had promptly delivered it, left it in a place he knew I would find it, and thoughtfully zipped my tent up to limit the number of bugs that slipped in. Later that day, I remarked to my friends that Phil was just like Santa- if you were good and asked nicely, you would find your heart’s desire in your tent after a short wait.
My friend, Donny (not her real name but it’s too long of a story for this purpose) took my words to heart and compose Phil a work order that went like this-
I have been very good this year and I would like more sand for Boating.
You see Donny was the Boating Director and her kingdom included a small beach that over the years had become less sand and more gravel dirt. Campers got dirty because they tended to play with it and it was generally just not the best situation. Later that afternoon, Donny received the following note –
I cannot get down the boating steps to deliver more sand. I am very sorry.
Notes like these are the reason that I will always prefer camp rangers to actual Santa Claus and not just because when you write to them, they tend to write back.
The logic for my affiliation lies in two places- One, while Santa looms with threats of coal, rangers tackle all of the craziness we throw at them with good humor and grace, even when it’s hidden beneath a sour disposition. Two, in the end, they are always there for us. While Santa is front and center for a month or so each year, the men of camp maintenance are willing to help at any point, because it is in their nature. I know because they have helped my friends out of snow banks at camp reunions, shown up to jump start cars during the off season, and even help cook a meal or two when the need arose. When’s the last time good old Saint Nick rescued you when you were stranded or even delivered firewood when the temperature dropped without warning in June?
So while it is rightfully his season, I will continue to prefer camp Santa to the real thing. Happy Holidays!