• Last modified 887 days ago (Dec. 23, 2020)


So what are you asking Santa for?

You’d better watch out You’d better not cry. You’d better not pout. I’m telling you why. And it’s only tangentially related to Santa Claus coming to town.

One of the benefits of publishing a more- than-century-and-a-half-old newspaper is the we have archives — including copies of all those letters to Jolly Old St. Nicholas that little kids, now responsible adults, wrote way back when.

Take, for example, this one: “Dear Santa: I want the farm train, stamps, games, hockey stick and puck, and GI Joes.”

Nothing confusing to elves about those requests. Straight. To the point. Almost a “just the facts, ma’am,” approach. Kinda like the old “Dragnet” TV series.

The author: Marion police chief Clinton Jeffrey in 1995, a decade before he became a star athlete at Marion High School and more than two decades before he took charge of his hometown’s police force.

As someone who now makes his living knowing the difference between the naughty and nice lists, Clint (as he signed his letter) seemed well on his way even before making his way into a police training academy.

Fair warning to kids of today: Those notes in our Dear Santa section this week, like everything that appears in our newspaper, will live on forever.

In these pandemic-plagued days, that’s probably a blessing for those on Santa’s nice list — and a curse for those whose letters suggest they might more appropriately belong on his other, less-mentionable list.

Driving around town this week, we noted an unusually large number of residences resplendent with dazzling decorations hung with care from chimneys, eaves, and whatever else could be found by presumably COVID-bored homeowners.

It got us to thinking: If our entire communities were to send an annual request to Santa, what would we ask for? Better streets and roads, of course. And a quick end to all this COVID consternation, including more and better-paying jobs for all. But what else should we ask for?

If we have the sense and foresight to think not just of today but of decades from now, our list might change. Some folks, particularly those who might be of an age to write to Santa, talk a lot about recycling and other environmental objectives. But given the economic challenges of many environmental goals, perhaps we need to consider a few others.

Like, for example, trees — particularly those of the non-Christmas variety. All those lights strung with care along our towns’ streets are getting a lot easier to see because fewer and fewer trees are present along the parking of our neighborhood byways.

One of our favorite little poems, which actually came from advertising distributed by local merchants, goes this way: “I want to live in a little town, where the trees meet across the street and you wave your hand and say hello to everyone you meet.”

We still do the latter. Failing to “speak to” — including nodding or waving to — anyone you even distantly encounter is the one unforgiveable sin of small-town life. But we’re doing a lot more “speaking to” our neighbors, even those we don’t really know, while traversing streets where trees no longer meet overhead.

Whether we should blame wind storms, plagues of insects, or overzealous linemen not wanting branches to interfere with power lines, the trees that used to line most of our residential streets are vanishing like teeth from an aging dental patient suffering from grave gingivitis and pernicious periodontal disease.

Unfortunately, arborists have yet to come up with anything as cosmetically and functionally effective as dentures for tree-denuded neighborhoods. So perhaps it’s time for local governments to stop basing all their improvement programs on grants du jour offered by bigger governments for improvements we don’t really need and instead set aside at least some of all that cost-sharing money to create a program that ensures every residence has at least one municipally planted tree in its parking and that every tree cut down is replaced by at least one new tree planted.

It’s not enough to avoid burying waste paper. We need to recycle our environmentally and aesthetically vital trees with an aggressive program of planting and replanting.

And while we’re at it, let’s see if we also can ask Santa for a few more transfer station trash containers that have enough capacity to handle trash and recycling drop-offs from residents without having to hire employees to watch them. Maybe we could get separate containers for separate types of recycling so we could actually make money on aluminum cans and possibly cardboard instead of mashing it all together with other things that mainly need to be buried.

We also can start funding projects that build the community for the future rather than tend to the needs of today. Tearing old buildings down should be a last resort. Preserving and enhancing them should always be our goal.

The same holds true of services we provide. While it’s wonderful that we want to feed those without the means to buy food, we must never get so elaborate with our plans that we undermine the stores that provide food for the rest of us. We hope Santa sticks into the stockings of every community in the county the approach Peabody has taken with its food bank. Rather than simply distribute free food, it distributes coupons that can be used to buy food at a local market. Such plans support not just the hungry but also those who provide needed services to the rest of us.

We all love to support education in our community — anything for the kids. But at some point we may need to question whether we’re shifting too much of our support to primary education, leaving such things as museums and business associations without funds while schools have luxurious buses for activities, signs sprouting in seemingly every yard in town, and the latest and best of everything — including a huge portion of the property tax payments we make.

When we can find the money to stock and staff sports concessions stands at government expense but can’t find money to complete work on decaying bridges, damaged alleys, and dilapidated driveways, we have to wonder why some causes constantly get lumps of coal while others regularly get stockings full of goodies.

It’s time for us to ask Santa not just for things that will make us feel good today but, more important, will improve our communities for decades to come. Kids may not be able to think that far ahead in their letters to the North Pole. But we’re adults. And we don’t deserve a spot on the nice list unless we act like it.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified Dec. 23, 2020