Unexpected heroes

By GREG TRIGGS
Posted 12/23/19

As we prepare to celebrate another holiday, minds wander toward the ghosts of Christmas past. I can’t help but remember a time before Sullivan County became home.

My sister Valerie is home …

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Unexpected heroes

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As we prepare to celebrate another holiday, minds wander toward the ghosts of Christmas past. I can’t help but remember a time before Sullivan County became home.

My sister Valerie is home from boarding school. She’s blind, so I remind her that there is a Christmas tree in the corner of our small living room where the hi-fi normally is kept. Usually when she’s home we listen to audio books sent by the Lion’s Club.

Born prematurely, she is also what will eventually be called mentally challenged. She’s a young 16. I’m an old 7, and I already know one thing: challenges don’t stop my sister. My dad named Valerie for the valor she showed as a baby—the will and determination to survive.

My dad isn’t drunk, but he’s not sober either. Poor dumb Don is with him. Poor. Dumb. Don. That’s what we call my dad’s sidekick. Not a kind nickname, to be sure. Nor is it apt. Don isn’t dumb. He’s weak. He’s a good guy, but desperate. He’ll lie or steal to feed his addiction, but that’s not his nature. It’s his consequence.

This particular Saturday, Don and Dad are drinking whiskey in our half-finished rec room. I’m skating around the framed-in walls, when they decide Santy Claus, their pronunciation, should visit today.

Soon a sweet, manic, booze filled plan is in place. Neighborhood kids are called over. Dad puts on a Johnny Mathis Christmas album, passes out some 15-cent half- sized Nestle Crunch bars out and plays host. I’m the only one looking out the kitchen window. I see the wobbly wooden ladder normally kept on the rack of my dad’s Badger edition Ford pick-up, propped up against the house.

Poor dumb, drunken Don dressed in a Santa costume is climbing up the ladder. He makes a big show of stomping across the roof.

Laurie McKiernan, Julie Hudzinski, Cindy & Jim McKenna and all the others track the footsteps and follow my dad to the picture window. We’re just in time to hear Don let out a scared, “whoa!” and slip off our roof. His fall is broken by a springy pine tree and a forever—since that day—dented aluminum awning.

He lands on a mattress of shrubs just before a pile of built up snow lands on his head.

Don brushes himself off, straightens his beard and heads to the front door, which my father answers. Like the rest of us he knows to narrate the action for Valerie’s sake. “Look kids. It’s Santy Claus!”

Somehow those two sweet guys have little presents for all the kids. I get a Buster Brown shoehorn. My little brother gets a toy truck that I’m pretty sure is already his. I don’t remember Valerie’s gift, but I can still see her normally closed eyes growing wide, hugging Santa Claus, her fingers running through his beard. Her voice filled with wonder. A special moment designed by two guys from whom the world doesn’t expect all that much.

That night when my mom says it’s time for bed. I pause with Valerie to relive meeting Santa Claus. She ponders her words. I am, after all, her little brother and regardless of circumstance she always tries to protect me. In the end sharing a secret wins out.

Her head cranes to make sure the grown-ups are out of the room and then she whispers, “Greg, you know that was poor dumb Don, right?”

And suddenly the story has another unexpected hero.

Merry Christmas.

Greg Triggs, TRR columnist and producer of the internationally touring show, “Broadway’s Next Hit Musical,” is a writer, director and performer. He has written and directed for Disney, the NFL, the Tribeca Film Festival and numerous other productions. His radio show, “Travels with Triggs,” airs on WJFF. 90.5. He’s the author of “The Next Happiest Place on Earth” and appears with the local performance group Yarnslingers. Find him at www.gregtriggs.com.

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