‘The Man with the White Beard’
I was born on the last day of Christmas, so I try and make the most of the yuletide season, celebrating to the very end.
With each birthday I mark, the more I reflect on the Christmases of my childhood. In those long-gone days, I had plenty of questions, some of which remain unanswered today.
Apparently I wasn’t the only child to ask questions, something I was reminded of a week ago while reading Bruce Templeton’s book, “The Man with the White Beard.”
For more than three decades, Templeton, an investment advisor, Rotarian, past chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade, and former regional manager for the Bowring retail chain, has devoted his Decembers to visiting children at school parties, country clubs, or in hospital critical-care units. During more than 1,000 visits, he has taken on the persona of Santa Claus and fielded both profound and unfor- gettable questions about the true meaning of Christmas. The queries are, in turn, happy, curious or heartbreaking, depending on individual experience.
Te m p l e t o n’s life changed for the better in 1977. While riding a subway in Toronto, en route to yet another business appointment, he read on the shopping bag he was holding the motto of a store chain — “Never Confuse Having a Career with Having a Life.”
Within hours, he tendered his resignation, informing his manager, “We hope to find a more balanced life and to play with our children while they still want to play with us and before it is too late. We need to make some memories for us all; we are going home.”
His adventures with Santa began a year later.
In 2012, Templeton wrote his first memoir, “The Man in the Red Suit.” Royalties from that book purchased vaccinations to immunize more than 200,000 children against polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
“From every book sale from the first printing,” Templeton says, “three children somewhere in the world are now safe from polio.”
With the proceeds from his sequel, “The Man with the White Beard,” he hopes to “continue to do that good work.”
The questions the author receives include the following: Can Santa help a large family? Santa, can you keep our dream alive? Can you bring back my puppy? Can you make the not- so- normal seem normal again?
In her foreword to Templeton’s book, Sister Elizabeth Davis writes: “Stories, images and traditions are not only a means of celebrating joy and hope, they also shape who we are as people, families, corporations and com- munities. This book ... is evidence of the ability of one person to make a difference. It reminds us of the goodness in our world, and invites all of us to help make it a better place.”
In his first book, Templeton concluded, “Christmas is far less about presents and more about presence.”
In his second book, he is, he says, “more convinced than ever” about that message.
Templeton crafts his latest offering around the so-called Santa Claus Oath — eight principles that reflect the ideals of what assisting St. Nicholas, the gift-giver of Myra, should be all about.
It begins with seeking “knowledge to be well versed in the mysteries of bringing Christmas cheer and guidance” to those we encounter.
It ends with promising to “use ‘my’ powers to create happiness, spread love and make fantasies come to life in the true and sincere tradition of the Santa Claus Legend.”
Templeton intersperses his narrative with a threefold excursus, remembering Richard, Ariel and Jason. Be prepared to shed a few tears as you read about such brave children.
“The Man with the White Beard” is enhanced by the inclusion of poetry, fullcolour photographs and illustrations, historical snippets about the life of St. Nicholas, a chapter on building a Christmas float, and Nurse Sylvia’s recollections of Christmas Eve in the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John’s.
The nurse asks, then answers, the question of how the tiniest person in the Intensive Care Unit feels about Santa.
“Well,” she says, “the nurses will tell you there is a magic and wonder in the air for these babies who might have been crying at the top of their little lungs when Santa arrived. Suddenly they become the calmest of God’s little creatures when placed in Santa’s arms.”
“The Man with the White Beard” is another fine product from Creative Publishers of St. John’s.