Whether I’d been naughty or nice and regardless whether I’d shouted or pouted, Santa Claus has always been good to me.
“Always” only goes back to the 1950s, but it suggests I have some history and experience when it comes to the Christmas season. Many wonderful gifts with my name on the tags have appeared under the tree or stuffed into stockings hung by the chimney with care.
Santa once brought me a bicycle, and another year a Rawlings baseball glove (Stan Musial model). There was the Rolex watch that turned out to be a Faux-lex Rolex watch, but I couldn’t have loved it more had it been genuine. Ten years ago Lucas gave me a CD collection of old gospel music I treasure, every morning I have coffee from the cup Emily gave me in 1985, and in 2014 wife Trophy wrapped a Mediterranean cruise up in a pretty box with a nice ribbon.
In short I’ve had many wonderful presents throughout the years, and here in 2020 I have yet another. And it isn’t even Christmas yet.
But let’s change the subject.
I know this interruption violates several rules of column-writing, but it’s more important to me to give credit to Mary Lee Davis for this year’s Christmas magic than it is to pay homage to Walter Winchell, Herb Caen, Milt Widder or other giants of a lost art in the disappearing world of newspapers.
Mary Lee Davis was a longtime neighbor and a veteran stroller around Ukiah’s west side, having walked blocks upon blocks with husband Eugene over many years and many miles. Sadly, the walking partnership and all that went with it ended several years ago.
Coincidentally, a haphazard batch of locals who gather early most mornings to shuffle about Todd Grove Park materialized. Many have dogs but they’re not required. All that matters is showing up, and most mornings you can rely on pooches like Millie, Boo, Kirby, Churro, Puppy, Fiona, Louie and Haley. Or not. Or others.
The dogs serve as chaperones for elderly sorts: Jerry, Dave, Charlotte, Ken, Arlynn, Valerie, Rod and anyone else who arrives, some by accident.
By 2017 or so Mary Lee, though dogless, once again donned her hiking shoes and joined the group. Ever prompt, as if to punch a time card, Mary Lee departed her Grove Street home each morning in time to merge with the gathering herd at the park. Perhaps because she is of a certain generation, she was always nicely attired, hair coiffed and makeup applied just so. Most other dog walkers dressed as if they’d rolled out of bed, but Mary Lee looked as if she were going to the opera.
The dogs demand chow before setting out and thankfully Ken, he of the bottomless pocket of biscuits, is part of the pack. Distribution of Treats complete, the group strolls and talks and talks and talks, and the dogs pester everyone for more treats.
One morning a few months ago Mary Lee Davis quietly announced she’d be leaving the group. She said she was selling the big old family house and moving. To Rohnert Park. A retirement home.
Well now. That morning’s walk was a subdued one, as we and dogs considered the consequences of morning walks without Mary Lee. Conceivable, yes, but there’d be a hole in the lineup, a missing piece that couldn’t be replaced.
Questions were asked and details emerged about her needing to be closer to family, which is of course nice, and the mundane details, like selling the house and moving 65 miles away.
Note: When we say “the house” it’s important to point out she’s lived in a huge old two story barn-like Craftsman beauty well over 60 years and that her husband had both been born and died in it. So it was a house filled with boxes, paintings, dishes, furnishings, memories and a million other precious things, some of them possessions.
It didn’t seem real. It felt like it couldn’t really happen, that she wouldn’t really leave us. But the weeks went by and a For Sale sign appeared in the front yard, boxes got loaded and hauled, and next thing you know Mary Lee had vanished. There’s indeed been a hole in the lineup.
And then last week a tiny package arrived, a package not much bigger than a deck of cards. It came from Mary Lee Davis in Rohnert Park, addressed to “Tom and Puppy.”
The gift wrap showed small bears cavorting, and inside was a little red box of See’s Candies, plus a ziploc baggie with 23 heart-shaped dog treats.
I can’t say a small red box of candy in 2020 is a nicer gift than the green-and-silver bicycle Santa brought me in 1957, but I also can’t say it isn’t. I’m not even sure a genuine Rolex watch would be a nicer gift.
We’re saving the Sees Candies for Christmas morning when the kids will be home, and we’ll stuff the heart-shaped treats into Puppy’s stocking. It’ll be hung by the chimney with care.
And the next day Puppy and I will go to the park early. We’ll distribute the remaining treats among Boo, Haley, Kirby, Fiona, Millie and any other dog who arrives in time.
I’ll be talking with my friends about Mary Lee Davis and Christmas 2020, when Santa Claus brought me one of the nicest gifts of my life.
(While you’ve been getting holiday greetings all week, Tom Hine has had everyone asking him about the Cleveland Idiots changing the team name. He shrugs and says, “Who cares? I’m an Oakland A’s fan.” TWK assumes this will result in the A’s moving to Tulsa next year.)