One of the biggest problems with writing a weekly newspaper column, for nearly 40 years in a row now, is that I sometimes write again about the same old memories from long ago. The problem is that I have numerous readers who have been reading this column for as long as I’ve been writing it.
I’d rather not get into specific instances, but a few astute readers have told me over the years that I’d just told the same story in a current column that I’d used several years ago in a previous article. Then they told me that my facts had changed from one story to the next.
I simply tell these readers that my memory is a lot like good whiskey. The older it gets, the better it’s supposed to be. Of course, it has been so long since I’ve tasted any whiskey that I wouldn’t swear to that. Not that I have anything against whiskey other than I’m not supposed to drink it with most of the medicines I have to take two or three times every day.
Anyway, if you are among the readers who remember a previously told “Letters to Santa” story in this space, please don’t get upset if my memory has improved in the one I’m about to tell.
When I was growing up at Blair Branch Grade school in Letcher County during the 1950s, one of the favorite Christmas season activities for us kids was rushing home after school let out and turning on the radio to see if our letters to Santa were going to be read “on the air”.
Of the 30-something households with school-age kids on Blair Branch in those days, the number with televisions could have been counted on the fingers of one hand and two or three digits would have been left over. Our only form of electronic entertainment was the family radio and it had limited capabilities. During daylight hours we were limited to fewer than half a dozen stations we could actually hear and on Blair Branch the only reliable day-time station was WTCW, the 500 watts broadcaster in Whitesburg.
Every afternoon between 4 and 5 p.m. starting the week after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, announcers would read “Letters to Santa”. Anyone who mailed a letter, addressed to the station in care of Santa Claus at The North Pole had a chance of getting their Christmas wishes read to anyone everyone tuned in to the station.
A postage stamp only cost three cents throughout my first three years of school, but the population of Letcher County at that point in time was over 35,000. The population of Santa soliciting grade school kids was far too large for all the letters to get read on the air, but we were assured that they would all get to The North Pole, regardless of any potential radio notoriety.
A now deceased WTCW radio personality once told me the station received over 1,000 Santa letters every year but they only got to read about one fourth of them.
Some of us letter senders quickly discovered that if we promised to leave the jolly old elf a bottle of RC and a big Moon Pie under the tree our chances for getting our letters read on the air increased. Royal Crown Cola Bottling Company and Kerns Bread, the Moon Pie distributor, sponsored the one-hour program. Plugging both companies, in our letters, was simply good for business.
RC also bottled Upper Ten, Nehi and Diet Rite Colas. It was not unusual for letter writers to leave all four brands under the tree. I recall mentioning that I’d heard Mrs. Claus was trying to lose weight and was leaving a 16 ounce bottle of Diet Rite for Santa to take home for her.
That letter got read, but to this day, I still don’t understand why anybody ever tried to drink more than one serving of Diet Rite Cola.
Finally, if this column differs much from previous ones about letters to Santa, I promise you that I have not been sampling from the whiskey jug. My memory is simply evolving.