The following story was written by Kent Bernhardt for the Salisbury Post and since he published it for all to read I'm trusting he won't mind if we share it with the family. Of course, if we have to pay him scale, we're deep into the family treasury. Kent is the son of Clifford Jr. and Marion Bernhardt, grandson of Clifford and Allieree Bernhardt, and great grandson of George and Ida Bernhardt.
In the late fifties and early sixties, I believed in Santa Claus. I didn't care what my friend Randy said.
Randy, the town bully, constantly tried to convince us that we had all been duped. There was no Santa Claus. It was a conspiracy concocted by the government to drive the economy, nothing more.
Randy's rants fell on deaf ears. First of all, I didn't know what a conspiracy was, so why listen to the rest? Besides, Randy was the same guy who stripped down to his underwear and took a bath in poison ivy to prove that he was immune to it.
Like I cared what this guy thought.
I had seen Santa with my own eyes. He came to the Faith American Legion Building just before every Christmas on the Faith fire truck. We would stand there in the cold for a half-hour waiting on him. He was right there in front of us, for crying out loud!
How could you see that and not believe?
Then one year, Santa rode into town on the fire truck, and when he climbed down, I noticed something odd. He was wearing a hearing aid, and his beard was hanging a full inch off of his face on a string. Plus, he looked suspiciously like a man in town who also wore a hearing aid.
Fortunately, my parents had the quick fix for my doubts. The man at the Faith Legion building that year was one of Santa's “helpers,” a devout group of tireless workers who aid Santa from time to time. “Sometimes, they even live among us,”they explained.
That was good enough for me. I even shared that piece of information with my own daughter when the time came.
Santa's helpers were everywhere.
Like a mighty army, they appeared all over Rowan County, especially in downtown Salisbury where you could see the most amazing display of Christmas lights each year. There were rows and rows of lighted wreaths and angels, capped off by a gigantic bell right in the middle of the square. By my crude calculations, there were at least a million lights throughout downtown Salisbury. Why, more than a million…there were probably at least…five thousand!
We would pile in the ’53 Plymouth each year and drive to town, just to see this amazing spectacle. It was one of the highlights of the Christmas season.
And when it came to Santa, I obeyed all of the rules. I was as good as I knew how to be, at least the great majority of the time.
Well, there was the one time my brother Mike and I got into a huge fight the day before Christmas. December 24, 1964: A date that will live in infamy.
My brother and I had been at each other most of the morning. I wasn't feeling well and was in no mood for his “mikeness.”
At about 10:30 in the morning, right after I had taken a dose of Phillips Milk of Magnesia (a medicine I despised), the tension between us reached the boiling point. We came to blows.
Mike was two years older and two years scrappier than I. He was the athlete of the family and it showed. But I gave it my all.
I pummeled his fist with my face a couple of times just to show him I meant business. Then, I fell to the floor to unleash my “spinning crab” defense. Words fail to do it justice; I’ll only say that it was a diversionary tactic designed to produce confused laughter from my opponent, which it usually did. It made me appear to be somewhat brain damaged, which by that time in the fight, I probably was.
Then, without warning, came the shot heard ‘round the town. He landed the perfect punch deep into my gut.
There was intense pain, extreme nausea, then a loud rumble followed by the expulsion of the entire contents of my stomach: breakfast, the Phillips Milk of Magnesia, and some candy we weren't supposed to be eating until Christmas Day.
The fight was over.
My grandmother, who arrived on the scene momentarily, separated us and cleaned up the mess that had narrowly missed the gifts placed neatly around the Christmas tree. We received a deserved scolding followed by stern reminder that “Santa is watching.”
That small detail hadn’t entered my mind, but it terrified me.
It was discovered after the fight that I was running a fever, and I was hastily diagnosed with “a stomach flu.” That caused me to miss the Christmas Eve activities at church that night, including the much anticipated visit from “one of Santa's helpers.” I could only hope that Santa had a short memory. I wouldn't be at church to defend myself.
As it turned out, Santa did indeed have a short memory. I was back on my feet Christmas morning and well blessed that year.
Not only that, but my brother and I made peace that day. Most importantly, we both learned the true lesson of Christmas:
To save the fighting until after the presents have been opened.