Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yard-Art Santas and Paperboys

My favorite Christmas card each season doesn’t come from a store. It is a photograph, printed on 4x6 paper, of a yard-art Santa Claus somewhere in East Texas. The photograph is invariably, wonderfully weird. For nearly two decades, by my count, O. Rufus Lovett has been distributing these photographs to his friends and colleagues. Someday I will gather them up from the various boxes where they are stashed and frame them into a single display.

Rufus and I have been friends for nearly a quarter-century. We met when I spent a year at Kilgore College as yearbook adviser and college photographer. Rufus has been the photography instructor there for more than three decades. His work is in museum and gallery collections throughout Texas. He is a contributing photographer to Texas Monthly and a number of national magazines, and has published two fine photographic book collections. (Google him to find out more.) I look forward to receiving Rufus’ cards each year.

This year’s offering features the torso of a blow-up Santa, with just his beard and belt visible, a pair of twine keeping him upright. Past versions include a Santa who appears to have been lynched on a front porch, the photo shot from behind; a forlorn decapitated Santa head hanging on a white-washed wooden fence with “God Bless America” painted across the pickets, a deer stand visible in the background; and a Santa mask fastened to a chain link fence guarding an electrical substation.

My friend Rufus has a keen eye for yard-art Santas. There is bound to be a book somewhere down the road.

As of this writing, three days before Christmas, I have received two other Christmas cards. (I suppose this should sadden me, but since I never send out cards it would be presumptuous to expect any in return.) One is from my attorney, the other from my newspaper carrier. The former told a few funny family tales. The latter wrote a thank-you note and included his address.

I suspect my carrier would not be opposed to a Yule stipend, which will be mailed to him forthwith. He is an excellent carrier who tosses a copy of the Wall Street Journal in the exact same spot on the driveway every morning. I have a soft spot for newspaper carriers, of course. Selling papers launched my checkered newspaper career.

A photo hangs in my office showing me and two other teen-aged boys standing next to a bicycle loaded down with a canvas satchel crammed with newspapers. It was taken in the fall of 1968, when I was 13. Downtown Longview was my oyster, especially at Christmas. The week before Christmas was a time of anticipation as I rode my route, peddling papers downtown, from the Brass Rail to the Bramlette Building, down Cotton Street to the car dealerships along Spur 63, back up the hill to the black neighborhoods hugging the south side of the city’s center back then.

At Christmas I was hoping for tips, much like the carrier who chunks my paper here each morning. The Brass Rail was the mother lode, a smoke-filled bar on Methvin Street, filled each afternoon with men playing 42 and spitting sporadically at the brass spittoons on the floor. One florid-faced fellow wearing a snap-button cowboy shirt gave me $20 once, a few days before Christmas — my best paperboy tip ever. But even the folks who struggled to come up with a dime a day for the paper kindly tipped the paperboy at Christmas, a quarter here, a buck there.

The memories of being a paperboy stick with folks of my generation and older. I have talked to people running for the U.S. Senate, for governor, men who are now successful in the corporate world. Nearly every one of them at one point had a paper route that they remember fondly. (Gender note: I know there were female youth paper carriers. I just didn’t know any, nor have I met any since. As adults, yes, but the afternoon paper route job was definitely male-dominated during my tenure.)

These days, my thoughts around Christmas are invariably reflective. Another year is about to pass. Lately, I ponder how best to spend my remaining years, however many or few that turns out to be. I can’t tell you I have come up with an answer, but it lays heavily on my mind.

Clearly, I am blessed, with my bride, children, family and friends. I need nothing. I want to know how to give back, how to make a difference. To me, that is part of the spirit of Christmas, discerning what admittedly small contribution I can make to our part of the world in the time I have remaining. It’s not just giving money, though that doesn’t hurt. It is figuring out how best to serve.

Friends, I hope you have a truly Merry Christmas. God Bless.


  1. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thanks for sharing your heart and your thoughts here on your blog, we enjoy reading.

  2. Thanks so much. Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.