St Nicholas is special to me. Not only do I attend a church named after him (he’s our “patronal saint” in liturgical churchspeak) but he’s indirectly responsible for my 20-year career in travel. As he’s the patron saint of children, sailors, and travelers, this seems more than mere coincidence. How’d this happen?
When I was still living in Eugene, I was drifting along at a dead end job after I left college, working at a dry cleaners. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or what I could do to improve my circumstances. More schooling seemed impossible; I had no more veterans’ or Social Security benefits left that paid tuition, and I’d pretty much wasted several years of my life goofing off and having fun, with no degree to show for it.
I’d become friendly with Eveline Elliot, a travel agent who worked down the street at the old Eugene Travel (which closed years ago). She was the person who got me started in the exciting and glamorous world of travel (oh brother) by hiring me to deliver tickets to her many clients on the University of Oregon campus. As a former student, I knew exactly how to find my way around the various office buildings on campus; I knew what “508 PLC” meant, where the building was, and that it was likely an English Lit. professor. After a short paid gig, I was asked to become an unpaid intern for 6 months, take all the free SABRE self-guided lessons in the computer system, and even travel to Dallas to American Airlines’ training center for weeklong classes, from the most basic to more advanced. The catch was the “unpaid” part, and since I didn’t wash out in the first month or two, they had a free employee with the understanding that if I got up to speed quickly enough, I might be offered a real job. Well, I couldn’t have gone 6 months without a paycheck, without Mom’s help. When I told her about it, she said it was no problem if it was what I really wanted. And my expenses were really, REALLY low: rent at the time was $125.00 a month, plus groceries and phone. Utilities were included.
As it happens, I got offered the paid position, but something had gone horribly wrong between h the owner of the agency and Eveline, and she was no longer working there (long story, owner was SO in the wrong: prison ensued on a later issue). But I was offered a better deal at another agency down the street because Eveline let them know I was available (an Apollo shop, so I had to totally re-learn some formats) and I was set for a year. Eventually, I got laid off from there (at Christmas, naturally; Eveline’s departure the year before was also at Christmas). More than a decade later, I was working in Seattle, not happy, and had met David, who lived in the Chicago suburbs. After a Christmastime trip with David to Colorado, I came home to the news that my employer was firing me (well, I really didn’t know what to do about that one big debit memo and put it off, can’t blame them). So I ended up working in travel here in the Chicago area, and now attend a church named after St Nicholas. It’s weird how it worked out that way. I just hope that my big job change (switching to another team sometime in the next week) is just another Christmas work-life development and not the harbinger of yet another holiday-time interruption in my continued employment in the industry. But I remain thankful for my job, which I suspect I may owe to the machinations of a Turkish saint who is very popular in Holland.
Eveline was Dutch, the seamstress at the dry cleaners was of Dutch extraction, and Eveline included me in her circle of friends. Eventually, this led to my participating in her annual Sinterklaas parties with other local friends. These were a lot of fun; the gifts could be quite modest, or even dug out of the trash and re-used, but they had to be elaborately wrapped and presented with a satirical poem that contained clues about the gift secreted somewhere inside the package, which could take any outlandish or mundane shape.
I remember Eveline one year had to work her way through a meticulously built cardboard steamer trunk, that opened on hinges and had little drawers and construction-paper clothes on hangers. It was lined with wrapping paper, and contained an itinerary that had the sprocket-holes along the sides just as the SABRE printers in her office produced for her clients. Eventually, she found something simple, like a luggage tag… that was the gift! Another year, an avid runner got a Nike running shoe, about the size of a breadbox. After reading the clues and taking it apart in the prescribed manner (there were several more installments of snarky poetry giving him clues) he eventually discovered a half-used tube of Shoe Goo.
You weren’t supposed to know who gave you the gift, and had to call out “Thank you, Sinterklaas!!” once you found your gift. Every now and then, someone would throw a handful of ginger nuts (also called pfeffernuessen)into the center of the group. This was to commemorate St Nicholas’ penchant for tossing gold and money bags through the windows of poor orphans and impoverished lovers.
Earlier today, I found the candy boxes from this years Fannie May fundraiser stacked on the front porch, dusted with snow. I knew UPS would be delivering it to the door, rather than to one of the St Nick’s parishioners, but I forgot to check the porch for it yesterday before the snow started. It should be fine, a little cold won’t harm fine chocolate. But as I brushed the snow off and brought it in, with David’s help, I couldn’t help calling out “Thank you, Saint Nicholas!”
From Benjamin Britten’s
St. Nicholas Cantata (1948):
Across the tremendous bridge of sixteen hundred years
I come to stand in worship with you, as I stood
Among my faithful congregation long ago.
All who knelt beside me then are gone.
Their name is dust, their tombs are grass and clay,
Yet still their shining seed of Faith survives-
In you! it weathers time, it springs again
In you! With you it stands like forest oak
Or withers with the grasses underfoot.
Preserve the living Faith for which yours fathers fought!
For Faith was won by centuries of sacrifice
And many martyrs died that you might worship God.
Help us Lord! to find the hidden road
that leads from love to greater Love, from faith
To greater Faith, Strengthen us, O Lord!
Screw up our strength to serve Thee with simplicity.