Back in the late 80s, I guess I was 8 or 9 years old, there was this old man that lived a street away from us. His name was Vet, or at least that's what everyone called him. I think his real name was Vester or maybe Sylvester. He and his wife Hilda had been friends with my grandmother before she died. I guess Vet had been some kind of engineer, maybe for Western Union.
Anyway, one winter there was a big snowstorm, schools closed for multiple days, kids sledding, all that. So I'm down on Black Oak Circle, where Vet lives, and he asks me if I want to help him with something. I was what is currently called precocious, but wasn't called that then, and I always enjoyed talking to and spending time with adults, even as a child. So I said sure and long story short we built an animatronic Santa sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch. I say we, he did it all and I helped in whatever menial way he needed, holding a wire, moving a rocking chair, whatever.
So this Santa had a wire running from the front porch to the mailbox, and any time there was noise at the mailbox...a couple talking as they walked by, a group of noisy kids dragging their sleds, a car driving past...the Santa would start to rock, raise its arm and wave, and say Ho Ho Ho. It was pretty remarkable at the time, and I remember seeing Vet on the local news a few days later when they did a short spotlight about it.
They actually interviewed me, not just about that, but about being out of school...oh wait, I just remembered...so after Vet did his Santa, the next-door neighbor did this huge snow sculpture of a dragon asleep, complete with scales and green food die. It was like 20 feet long. So the news was talking about both and I was out there so they interviewed me. The reporter at that time was a girl named Linn Yann, who had grown up in a Cambodian work camp. She and her family had been separated and forced to dig ditches and build roads and plant rice while foraging for berries and roots to survive. When the Vietnamese took over the camp they were at, they fled to Thailand or something and then were brought to America by aid workers. So in four years, Linn Yann goes from never having spoken or even heard a word in English to competing in the National Spelling Bee and almost winning. They made a Disney Saturday family movie about her called "The Girl Who Spelled Freedom." So anyway, she was famous locally, because she had fled to Chattanooga and lived here when she almost won the spelling bee and became a reporter for the local NBC affiliate.
So she was doing this piece on Vet and his Santa and the neighbor and his big green snow dragon and all of the snow and the kids who were out of school because of the snow and since I was the kind of kid who hung around with adults involving myself in things like building animatronic Santas and such, she interviewed me and asked me what the best part of being out of school for snow was. In a spectacular display of foreshadowing my burgeoning dark sense of humor, and remember I was no more than 10, but I knew who she was so when she asked me what the best part of being out of school was, I looked her in the face and said before the viewing audience of the greater Chattanooga metropolitan area that I was just really happy I didn't have to take my spelling test.