As Christmas nears, it was comforting news: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – for years, youngsters from around Otsego County rode the mechanical Christmas legend at Bresee’s Department Store in Oneonta – is in good hands.
The venerable four-story emporium at 155 Main St. – now Klugo’s Parkview Apartments – closed in 1994. And when the building changed hands almost a decade later, the Lettis Auction House auctioned off the remaining contents on Dec. 11, 2003.
That included all of the Christmas objects and decorations, and Rudolph passed into the hands of Greg Noonan, Cherry Valley, who would make it available at Christmas for current-day youngsters to ride at various venues around the county – one year, Danny’s Main Street Market in Cooperstown; another, at the Cherry Branch Gallery in Cherry Valley.
Greg held a big auction earlier this year at his farm outside Cherry Valley, and he reports how, providentially, a local individual, so far unnamed, who is a big Rudolph fan, acquired Bresee’s mechanized reindeer.
This person, as Greg tells it, is both a collector of books and ephemera about the most famous Santa’s sleigh across the sky, we’re told, each Christmas Eve. He’s sprucing up Rudolph, even creating a new saddle to replace the one that’s had so much use.
No Rudolph feature story this year – but maybe next.
Meanwhile, relics of Bresee’s Christmas displays are still part of community life, and stories about them resurface year after year.
This year, for instance, John Pontius, Excelsior College vice president (and one of the Albany Business Review’s 10 CFOs of the Year in 2014), now retired to Oneonta, arranged for Bresee elves and doe-like seamstresses from St. James Manor & Retirement Community to be displayed in the windows of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society at Dietz and Main. (Pontius is the new GOHS president.)
You should have seen the rubbernecking.
That led to an article about Carla and Wayne Balnis, who have obtained a Bresee’s display of mechanized skaters that Jim and Katherine Catella set up for years on the lawn of their Belmont Circle home in Oneonta. The Balnises, maybe next year, maybe beyond, plan to revive the display on their Gilbert Street front lawn in the city’s Sixth Ward.
To watch passersby’s delight at Dietz and Main as the display went up, or to hear the Balnises’ enthusiasm, you have to ask yourself, what’s going on here?
There was a good piece a couple of years ago in the Atlantic, “Americans’ Quest for the Christmas of Their Childhoods,” that argues: With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, merchants discovered city dwellers had an “appetite for remembering rural life, whether or not they’d actually experienced it themselves.”
“What is today a $600 billion season industry, rooted in the anxiety about change and a yearning for a simpler world, was born,” Catherine Woodiwiss wrote.
She continued: “The nostalgia for Christmas is in part a way to subsume fears of the future” – she ticks off a number of the front-page crises of three years ago; many haven’t changed –
“in a yearning for the past.”
Yet, isn’t that life – moving from simplicity to complexity? And maybe instead of nostalgia, the Christmas spirit can reconnect us, not with traditional values, but enduring ones.
Here’s one list: kindness, patience, humility, honor, loyalty, wisdom, respect, trustworthiness, generosity, compassion, temperance, bravery, diligence, justice, frugality, fidelity and charity.
Let’s add love and friendship. And let’s replace “traditional” with “enduring.”
There’s nothing on that list that would do any of us any harm, and none we couldn’t immediately embrace and begin to pursue.
Nostalgia? Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be.