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Dec 01

A Message from the County Executive: The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future

Posted on December 1, 2023 at 1:58 PM by Bryanna Hartmann

For those of us who have lived our whole lives in St. Charles County, time overlaps—the past and the present—and even more so at Christmas time.  

I see the building that used to be the store where we went after school for gum, but now it’s an apartment building.  

I drive down Hawthorn Avenue where I lived as a boy with my parents and my brother and sister in the 1950s. The County Executive in me wants to call the building inspector to find out why this house is so much smaller. Is it sinking in the ground? Or have I just gotten older and taller?

I remember Christmases past in that house. My father—the early rising, hard-working milk man for St. Charles Dairy. He was the one who should have been County Executive. He was the nicest man who ever lived. I try to be like him but realize often I am just a facsimile of my father. We all do the best we can.  

We weren’t poor and we weren’t rich, but as a milkman’s family, we always had plenty of milk and butter and ice cream. And then there was my mother. She was a stay-at-home mom, a staunch Catholic always telling us the right thing to do. Boy, I hated that at the time. But looking back, Mom was right about a lot of things.

Oh, if only I could ring that doorbell on Hawthorn Ave. on a Christmas Eve around 1956 or so. If only I could sneak across the threshold unseen, like the ghost of Christmas past peeking in on the family that was.

The Christmas Eve I’m thinking about, I was about six years old.

That was the Christmas Eve my parents announced, “Santa is coming!!! Hide until he rings the door bell!”

So, we had to go to the back bedroom with our Aunt Verna watching over us. She would tell to be still and listen. We could hear someone going up and down the steps (getting the presents out of the attic), but Aunt Verna told us it must be reindeer on the roof!

Then the doorbell would ring and out we’d run into the living room and there he was standing right next to the tree with our presents all around him—Santa Claus.

Actually, it was our neighbor down the block Mr. Douglas, who did this routine for a few families.

I think he told us “Share your toys and don’t fight. Peace on Earth and goodwill to men,” and then with a few ho-ho-ho’s he left.

Looking back, it’s amazing how we took this cosmic visitation in stride. We didn’t question the logic of Santa lavishing a full ten minutes on us when he had the rest of the world to deliver presents to. It was a simpler time.

And now this December, I still think about Mr. Douglas dressed up as Santa. I think, wouldn’t it be nice if he could zing forward to 2023 in his Santa outfit?

What if he could visit the County Council chambers on a Monday night during a heated meeting?

I picture him coming in the window with a rush of wind and snow flurries like a Frank Capra movie.

Old Mr. Douglas might stroll right up to the microphone during the public comment period, and he wouldn’t even need the whole three minutes, because his message would be short and sweet.

“Share your toys and don’t fight. Peace on Earth and goodwill to men.”

And then he’d climb back out the window with a few ho-ho-ho’s, and the clerk would move onto new business.

My sincere wish this holiday season is that we all get along and respect other and work together, even if we disagree politically. After all, we’re all just passing through another Christmas present.

Merry Christmas,
Steve Ehlmann