Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Old St. Nick Gets New Life

I never met my father’s father.  Pappy died from cancer in 1975, long before I was born.  My father, being the sentimental man that he is, has saved a lot of Pappy’s things and I always enjoyed hearing stories about them. There are three particular items of Pappy’s that my father not only saved, but also continues to use to this day.

  1. A traditional stained, leaded glass Tiffany lamp.  It was a prized possession of Pappy’s and my father has taken good care of it since his death.  When my parents were moving several years ago, a gentleman driving by stopped and offered my father $500 for the lamp.  Now, I honestly don’t know what the lamp is worth but, I do know that it wouldn’t have mattered what price the gentleman offered; that lamp wasn’t going anywhere, period.  About two years ago, I repaired a light socket on the lamp that had been broken for years – a job that brought my father and I (and hopefully Pappy) a lot of joy.

  1. In 1938, Pappy built a platform with trains and a village (a putz for those PA Dutch out there).  He built it for a set of Lionel trains and my father continues to put up the display and run those very same 1938 era trains.  They have taken a beating and have gone through countless repairs.  Nevertheless, every Christmas without fail, that display is up and running.  And it’s something I look forward to every year more than I can explain.

  1. Finally, number three, also Christmas related and the basis for this post.  Pappy bought a molded plastic Santa figure, about three feet tall, to display on their front porch at Christmas.  He wanted it to be perched on a raised section of the brick wall of the porch, where a square piece of concrete rounded out the top of the wall.  But, how to attach the Santa to the wall?  Well, he built a wooden base that exactly matched the dimensions of the top of the wall.  That way, he could tie the base to the wall and Santa wouldn’t move.
The best I can figure, Pappy did this in the late ‘60s, and Santa remained on his perch every Christmas until Pappy passed away, at which point my father began using the Santa at our house.  We didn’t have a brick wall so Santa moved to different locations, but he always appeared at Christmas.

After years of wear and tear, the base began to deteriorate, the light socket was corroded and the electrical cord finally broke in half.  So, last summer I removed Pappy’s base and replaced it with an identical wooden base.  Same size, same bright red color.  I also replaced the light socket and wire.  Santa was ready for another forty years.  Again, it brought my father and I great joy.  It was so neat to work on something that my grandfather, a man whom I have never met, worked on with his own hands over four decades ago.  Wow.  But, it gets better.

A few months ago, Tara and I (and Bert, of course) were at our local farmer’s market and we decided to take a walk through the flea market section while Bert napped.  We stumbled upon a miniature (about 18 inches tall) Santa figure – nearly identical to Pappy’s. The only difference was that this Santa had a black toy bag (Pappy’s is blue) and was holding a bell (Pappy’s holds a gift). I couldn’t believe it and, with only a $5 price tag, we couldn’t resist.  But, I couldn’t stop there, oh no.

The Santa had no light so my next trip was to the hardware store for a plug, some wire, a light socket and a bulb.  All the same materials I used to repair Pappy’s Santa, except his required a larger bulb.

I wired the plug and socket together and screwed in the bulb (it is a very small bulb because I was afraid a larger bulb either wouldn’t fit or would get too hot and melt the plastic.  But, when tested, it gave plenty of light).

Next, I had to find a way to attach the light socket to the inside of the Santa figure.  Hmmm….  I decided on a thin piece of metal that would attach to the exterior of the Santa (in the back) and hold the socket in place.

I plugged in Santa and flipped (well, turned) the switch...

Now, all that was needed was a bright red wooden base.  Yes, I know the point of the original was to fit neatly on the porch wall – which we don’t have.  But, that doesn’t matter.  Santa needed a base.  And, not just any base either.  Since I had already taken Pappy’s base apart, I had seen exactly how it was attached.  So, I followed Pappy’s unwritten directions and attached a base to my Santa the exact same way.

Square nuts hammered into the wood so they won’t turn when screwed into.  The nails hold the nuts to the block of wood because this block sits inside Santa’s feet where you can’t reach it when putting on the base.

I cut the base out of plywood into a 12” x 12” square.  Then I painted it red (I even used the same can of paint I used to build the new base for Pappy’s Santa last summer).  To attach the base, I used flat heat screws set into the wood so that the base sits flat and won’t wobble or scratch any surfaces.

Finally, the base was attached and…

… The final product is a very nice replica of Pappy’s, only smaller.  I hope that, in some small way, I made Pappy smile somewhere, even without ever having met him.  I look forward to displaying Santa next Christmas and I hope Bert finds as much joy in my Santa as I found in Pappy’s.  Thanks Pappy.

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