‘The Man with the White Beard’

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net.

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.

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