For years on end I have watched the Santa Claus parade here in Straffordville, often took pictures for this newspaper, once was part of the parade as Professor Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame. This week I had to make a decision. My old friend, George Hillner passed away and his funeral would be at the same time as the parade. It was an easy decision. We always have Santa.
I said my old friend, but in fact I'm George's old friend by about a year.
Because he was Uncle George to two of my sons, we spent many a happy time together over the years. Often it was at the home of his sister, Helen Chivers, who is a wonderful cook. George would bring his guitar, and like the Smothers Brothers, he'd start strumming a familiar tune, then stop to talk about something. His interests were wide. Usually among the dishes at mealtime would be a selection of green and red peppers.
You had to be alert when you sampled a pepper from George's large garden. He cultivated row on row of some of the hottest peppers known to man, as well as many sweet peppers that looked much like the fiery ones. George took great delight in watching the smoke pour from the ears and nostrils of the unwary.
If you were foolish enough to feign enjoyment of a live coal and eat another just to disappoint George you paid for it as your gut let you trace its journey through your digestive tract.
The Hillner, Andrews and Chivers relations celebrated Victoria Day with a generous display of fireworks. It was our custom to roast hamburgers, wieners and marshmallows over a lively campfire. It was George's custom to provide a feast of back bacon and white beans to be cooked over that same fire. Both these delicacies were products of his farm on the Tunnel Road.
George was a pilot, spent several years directing traffic at the Windsor airport before moving back to the family farm. His interest in flying perhaps was the seed for his curiosity about the great starry universe. He ground the lens for his reflecting telescope and spent many a night studying the heavens.
From time to time an asteroid passes through the solar system close, in astronomical distance, to our planet earth. Usually astronomers don't see it coming, only detecting it against the background of fixed stars after it has passed us. Invariably when that has happened I would get a phone call from George asking if I'd heard about it. I soon learned to anticipate the call when the media reported such an event.
George loved the human race. It aroused great anxiety in him whenever he realized we may all have joined the dinosaurs. He was troubled by the knowledge that our sun will become a supernova turning all in the system to ashes. He wouldn't be comforted by any of us who assured him that the human race would have long since destroyed itself by overpopulation or exhausting all resources.
One day George and his friend Mike Peltz stopped to visit my son Doug. Doug, his father-in-law Lloyd Chivers and I had erected a playhouse for the boys, Nathaniel and Nigel. It was built on posts to resemble a treehouse with a porch facing a large patio door and fan light in Doug's house. Perhaps 40 feet separated the two. It was typical of George to question the wisdom of this arrangement. The boys were apt to throw something and break the window.
It was typical of Mike Peltz to say in a soothing tone, "Now George, you're probably worrying about something that's never going to happen."
Mike was right.
On Saturday I bummed a ride with Peg and Jane to the interment in Vienna's St. Luke Cemetery. The procession passed through Straffordville. As we crossed Main Street I glanced westward. There came a team of horses with St. Nick perched on the wagon on his way back to the marshaling area at the school.
And so although I missed the parade I did get to see Santa after all.