Every year, on the first Sunday evening of December, the fine citizens of Belmont, Ontario are treated to our Santa Claus Parade, complete with the big guy. And every year since 1846 I’ve dressed up as Charles Dickens, handing out candy to the short people.
Yesterday morning I got a call from John, the owner of FreshMart. He sponsors the float that I start off walking beside. Every year, I’ve never been able to keep up with the rolling hay-bale bed full of kids, because children at the curb deserve their candy and a few words of greeting.
“Bruce, I have 250 candy canes. Do you think that’ll be enough?” The Belmont parade has always been a popular destination but as we spoke the freezing rain was coating the world. I’m no meteorologist or predictor of consumer trends. However … “No. Make it 400.” I have no idea where that estimate came from. It didn’t feel like it grew out of my cognitive mind.
I arrived at the staging grounds at 5:30, a half hour before the big rollout. My task was clear: find kids on floats. They’d be candyless and probably would remain so for the duration of the parade. I bet I gave out forty candy canes before the proceedings started proceeding. Right away, I saw the challenge before me. Candy canes have their hooked ends, which in a bag tend to resemble a glob of clothes hangers. Try to get the buggers apart. Happily, my finger dexterity skills improved as we hit the streets (actually just Main Street).
And now we begin. Just a sprinkling of kids on the first block, but they were already loving the glitz and glamour that passed before them. The candy wasn’t bad either. I saw a girl I had volunteered with three years ago in Grade 6. She opened her arms for a hug. I asked if she was under 12, my fictitious limit for bestowing canes. With a smile she said “Yes”. During the parade, I asked many adults the same question. The hardy souls who uttered the same lie got rewarded for their bravado with one of the little hooked things.
In a parade, if a candy dispenser has a favourite line to say, he can do that over and over again since every person is new and fresh. I loved approaching a little girl or boy and saying “Would you like candy or lettuce?” I’m sure you can figure out the predominant response, but there were a few kids who bubbled up with “Lettuce!”, to which I replied with “Oh, I just gave out my last bunch two blocks ago!”
So many wide eyes looking up at me with their bags open, hoping that this guy in a top hat, fake moustache and trenchcoat would drop something in. I didn’t disappoint. I have a certain radar when it comes to locating children. I encouraged their nutritional awareness by often commenting “Candy is one of Canada’s Four Major Food Groups … Sugar!” The parents smiled, knowing that I had spoken the truth.
With two blocks to go, the FreshMart float was long gone, and I was passed by Santa Claus himself. He and I made eye and wave contact and I silently uttered an oath in favour of a red Lambourghini. Santa zooming ahead meant the parade was over and families were drifting off to their cars. Still with candy in my bag, I chased folks down a side street, foisting my wares on unsuspecting but grateful young ones.
I ended my evening walking back towards my car. Within the festive beauty of Belmont Community Park, I rummaged in my bag for the dregs. Four adults approached. I could tell they were all under 12, and so they received candy canes in their palms. I went to a Christmas display and dumped the contents onto the frozen grass. Merely fragments of candy remained.
Hey, John … 400 did nicely! And all was well in the world.