The Parade

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.

The Santa Parade

I couldn’t help myself last night.  I just had to dress up like Charles Dickens for the Belmont Santa Claus Parade.  It was full regalia: dress shirt and tie, top hat, long dress coat and a red scarf (courtesy of the TFC soccer team).  Oh, and I used spirit gum to develop an instant moustache, a black handlebar jobbie.

I walked down Main Street to the staging area an hour before the departure time, coming across various gaggles of humanity.  Each time, I announced myself as Charles Dickens, arrived earlier in the day from England, and asked if there was a parade happening soon.  Most people laughed and joined in the fun.  One couple playfully directed me to the wrong end of town.  A few folks just stared but that’s okay.  I guess I was an abrupt shock.

Down at parade central, I joshed with kids and adults, many of whom I knew, as the rain began.  It would last for the next hour.  My task was to walk beside the Belmont Diner float, handing out mini-chocolate bars.  Based on my parading two years ago, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  Kids deserved their five seconds of eye contact.  So my bag was plum full of tasty treats.  I felt “like a peddler, just opening his pack.”  Strength training here I come.

As our cavalcade spilled onto Main Street, there were the kids … hundreds of them on the route.  One bar for each small human, and a huge mustachioed smile.  “Merry Christmas!”,  “God bless us everyone”, and other assorted holiday greetings.  I mentioned to the adults that they’d get chocolate if they were under 15, and many of them happily volunteered that they were.  The ones who spoke up got a bar.  Why not?

I told a few kids that hidden beneath the plastic wrapping of their treat was a lovely piece of broccoli.  Pained faces, until I corrected that to chocolate, “which as we all know is one of Canada’s four major food groups.  By the way, the other three are also chocolate.”  So … many smiles.

I saw lots of kids I knew, and received several hugs from children who could see beneath my disguise to the Mr. Kerr within.  I only forgot one name and awkwardly looked at the boy for a few seconds after “Merry Christmas”.  I was sad that I couldn’t remember his name.  After all, he was in the class where I volunteered last year.  But that’s life.  Perfection is not me.

I was so happy to see people, young and old, who are part of my life.  And they were happy to see me.  Belmont has been my home for two years and now I belong.  What a sweet feeling.

As someone wise once said
“Home is where the heart is”

How Sweet It Is

There is such a thing as a Belmont Santa Claus Parade and I got to experience it a couple of days ago.  The night was dark and I was Charles Dickens – top hat, scarf, trenchcoat … and moustache!

I live at the north end of Belmont and the parade was to start at the south end, on the grounds of the farm supply company.  Forty-five minutes before the great beginning, I strolled down Main Street.  To the few passersby I encountered I said “What’s going on in town tonight?”  Some smiled.  Some stared.  Oh well.

Basically there were hardly any spectators positioning themselves.  Here I thought the Belmont parade was a big deal.  Guess I was wrong.

I found my Belmont Diner float and loaded my Christmas bag with tons of candy.  Then I wandered among the other floats, chatting with some and sundry.  I sought Santa, hoping that he would come through with the red Lamborghini I had promised myself decades ago.  But he must have been doing some last minute gift wrapping.  And then it was time to get rolling.

I told the Grade 6 kids at South Dorchester School that I’d be handing out candy beside the Diner float, and if they wanted to see me they should be on the east side of the street.

The float and I turned right out of the parking lot onto Main Street.  Oh my God!  The sidewalks were packed two and three deep, and were well populated with short folks.  Christal, the Diner’s owner, told me “One candy only to each kid.  Otherwise you’ll run out by the bridge.” (about one-third of the way along the route).  Okay, so be it.

I made eye contact with every child I could find.  “Merry Christmas!” was interspersed with “I don’t see any kids.”  (Cue frantic waving) and “You look like a broccoli and lettuce kind of guy, not the candy type.”  (Cue yelps of “Candy!” and outstretched hands)   Great fun.

About five of the Grade 6s rushed up to say hi.  And I got to meet a few parents.  I think they’re glad I show up in their child’s class.  Being there makes me happy.

Occasionally I glanced up from the sea of young faces to see my float fading into the future.  Ouch – that’s my source of candy replenishment!  So a decision was needed.  Should I zoom forward to refill my bag or continue to see each youngster?  Practicality gave way to relationship.  More eyes to behold.  Dwindling supplies be darned.

I got to chanting “Adult, adult, adult … kid!” and gave the next small human a gigantis smile.  Another candy safely delivered.  Laughing went from sidewalk to street and back again.

Up Main Street we journeyed, past the Barking Cat (pub), the Diner, The Post Office and Jody’s bench, the Belmont Dairystore, the library and the Town Restaurant.  When at Church Street, one block from the end of the parade, what to my wondering eyes should appear but only twenty candies lying in my bag.  Between Church and Washburn, another flurry of children bounced on the sidewalk.  What to do?  I mentioned my dilemma to a number of parents.

Guess what happened?

Maybe eight or ten adults poured handfuls of candies into my bag. “For the kids up ahead.”  And how many of the children associated with said adults complained?  That’s right – zero.  Immensely sweet.

Thank you, Belmontonians.  You made my year.