Thanksgiving Without The Jewish Santa Claus

I love this time of year. Fall is at its crisp and colorful peak. Thanksgiving is steps away and Christmas is just around the corner. Thanksgiving in particular is a favorite due to the warmth of my family get togethers. It brings back memories of my grandmothers and so many good feelings. A big part of my holiday for the past 16 years or so has been the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Since Jackie was about 2, and year after year with the arrivals of Samantha, and Joelle, and along with a litany of family and friends, I have attended the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Not on some corner packed into a crowd 17 rows deep but instead with prime reserved seating on Columbus Circle, or on Central Park West and even a few times at the Macy’s Grandstand.

This made for dozens of moments that dreams were made of in the eyes of each of my girls as they grew up at the parade watching their favorite cartoon character floats or teen idol of the moment pass by in front of their eyes. We have seen them all from Barney, Hilary Duff, Miranda Cosgrove, the Cheetah Girls, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Santa Claus and dozens of others. There is just one word to explain how a guy like me get such treatment. Bernie.

My friend Bernie started out as my boss Bernie about 24 years ago. He was tough and gruff but we hit it off and he soon became an Uncle Bernie to me. Along the way when I needed a favor, or someone in my family needed a favor he was my go to guy. He didn’t just seem to know everybody in the world, he did know everybody in the world. Uncle Benny needs a job in security, Uncle Bernie gets him a job in security, Grandpa Al needs a transfer to a kinder gentler OTB, Uncle Bernie gets him the transfer. Joey needs an engagement ring for Debbie, Uncle Bernie has me sitting with his own diamond importer. We were so close that when I got married Bernie was part of the trifecta that performed my ceremony, (along with a Judge and Rabbi) offering his own brand of spiritual well wishes. When the Jackie and Samantha and Joelle dropped in Bernie helped out with their blessings and even their Hebrew names. He was all over my life.

One early fall day when Jackie was about two Bernie called me up and said I have a few tickets for you and your daughter for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I thanked him but told him I had no desire to stand on a corner with 10,000 people and my two year old in the cold trying to see a float. He said “Joey, would I put you and your daughter on a corner? I have reserved seats for you on Columbus Circle.” He then went on to describe taking his kids to the parade as they were growing up, sitting in these great seats and getting hot chocolate and cookies for the kids as part of the whole deal. It sounded too good to be true, but suddenly I was game. So there I was on Thanksgiving morning, along with Jackie and my Dad, all of us bundled to top. I remember it being about 28 degrees. True to his word the seats were great, the hot chocolate and cookies were great, Jackie was wide eyed, and I was sharing a moment with Dad and my daughter that still seems like only yesterday. From that Thanksgiving on, Bernie, my Jewish Santa Claus, ushered in the holiday season for me and my family every Thanksgiving with tickets for the parade. I never had to ask, they became my rites of fall. As Samantha and then Joelle came along the tradition continued every year for me and my girls, and most thankfully my Dad. Growing up my Dad had always gone out of his way to do everything for me, and there seemed to be a poetic justice to have him there we me as I shared these memorable moments with my kids.

As the years went by Bernie would sometimes get me up to eight tickets a year allowing me to share the experience with numerous members of my family and friends. This guy made me such a big shot and I think he knew that and enjoyed that. Even as professionally we went different ways, we remained close and the tickets always came as the calendar greeted November.

A couple of years ago Bernie got sick. I hadn’t heard from him for awhile so I paid him a visit at his apartment. He told me he had lung cancer, and I cried. He battled and never complained and thankfully life with Bernie went on. Then last summer things seemed to take a turn for the worse, and he was hospitalized for a stretch. Less than a week before the parade my phone rang at home, I picked it up and a rasped voiced Bernie was on the line “Joey your tickets are at the armory, make sure you pick them up before tomorrow night” I was speechless. I thanked him of course, picked up 10 tickets for the parade, and shared another great day with my girls, some friends, and my cousin. I remember calling Bernie from the parade and having everyone express their thanks to him over the speakerphone. As always he took it in stride, like it wasn’t a big deal.

It was a big deal. It was always a big deal.

A couple of months later my friend Bernie, the Jewish Santa Claus died, and for me things still aren’t quite the same. I think of him often, and with Thanksgiving and the holiday season in the headlights, I think of him more than often. When this time of year came around I know he loved to make me a big shot with my girls. My joy and their joy was his joy. He was a remarkable guy, with a lot of pull who knew everyone. I think it is more than a coincidence that his beloved Giants won the World Series as soon as Bernie made it to heaven, It clearly took him just a few months to make the right connections. I miss him, and he will always be a wonderful part of Thanksgiving memories for me even though we never spent a Thanksgiving together. You know what, knowing Bernie I wouldn’t be surprised if tickets to the parade showed tomorrow in my mailbox.

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