StoryCorps 451: Holiday Highlights

‘Tis the season for the StoryCorps Christmas podcast.

sears-santa-adThis week we hear stories about a father who helped start the annual tradition of keeping track of Santa Claus as he flies across the globe making his Christmas Eve rounds, a struggling mother reveals how she was able to throw big, memorable holiday celebrations for her children, and a teacher who helped a young boy deal with sadness and loss during most children’s happiest time of the year.

Every Christmas Eve, people worldwide log on to the official Santa Tracker to follow the man himself (along with his eight reindeer and Rudolph), as they deliverer presents to boys and girls. In our first story, Terri Van Keuren (top left), Richard Shoup, and Pamela Farrell (top right) discuss the important role their father—Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup—played in starting that tradition.

Colonel Shoup was stationed at the Continental Air Defense Command (now known as NORAD) which was tasked with protecting U.S. air space from Soviet attack in 1955 when a misprint in a Colorado Springs newspaper (see above) listed the number for one of the secure military phones on his desk as a direct line for children to call and talk to Santa. Much to his surprise and consternation, a phone that normally remained silent, began to ring regularly.

His three children came to StoryCorps to remember their father, an important and serious man with an accomplished military record, who considered giving kids yearly updates on the location of Kris Kringle his proudest professional accomplishment.

conley_600x400Next we hear from Carrie Conley whose husband left her to raise their six children on her own. She came to StoryCorps with her youngest child, Jerry Johnson (pictured together at left), who told his mom, “I cannot remember one Christmas that I didn’t feel like the luckiest kid in the world.”

What Jerry didn’t know at the time was how his mother made their celebrations so special. Carrie would save up all her sick days no matter how ill she was and later cash them out, taking the money to the Salvation Army to purchase toys donated by wealthier families in anticipation of the new ones their children would soon be receiving.

And while Carrie made a lot of sacrifices for her children, one concession she would not make, regardless of how much holiday spirit she possessed, was to give credit where it was not due, telling her son, “I never did tell you it was Santa Claus ’cause I said that I can not give no man credit for when I work.”

prd000172_g3Finally, we hear from John Cruitt, whose mother passed away two days before Christmas in 1958. At the time, John was a student in Cecile Doyle’s third grade class at Emerson School in Kearny, New Jersey.

When John returned to school, Cecile was there for him with gentle words and a kind gesture that gave John hope at a very difficult time. More than 50 years later—John, now a teacher himself—reached out to Cecile to thank her for helping change his life.

And while they came to StoryCorps to talk about how Cecile helped John, she revealed how his letter, after all these years, helped her through a difficult time as well.

Merry Christmas from the StoryCorps podcast.