A few years ago I met Jeff at the bus stop on Sacramento Street in Berkeley. The bus was late once again and he talked non stop while we were waiting. He droned on about this and that and then he blurted out that I reminded him of the women that were in the classic “masters” paintings. What it really boiled down to was that I have flowing hair and that I was “zaftig”. Now that can either mean deliciously plump or you carry your weight well. I will gratefully accept the latter.
I also learned that he had once been a radical and was heavily involved in the hippie movement in the 60’s. He loved to talk about People’s Park in Berkeley and how they used to go there at night and recite poetry while the drummers would inspire people to dance. It was pure freedom he said until one night the University of California put a fence up around the park at 4:30 am to keep everyone out. He told me that their mission became to keep the park open and he along with others would take wire cutters and tear the fences down repeatedly.
Jeff said in their naive minds they honestly thought they had won until the National Guard showed up everyday, growing in numbers until the total reached three thousand. As he spoke he almost broke into tears and then his eyes became consumed with anger and he uttered one word. That word was simply Reagan.
At that point in my life I was a part time hippie in Montreal, Quebec and did not know much about Reagan. I was too busy ironing my hair and spreading love and flowers on weekends. Linda knew absolutely nothing of what was going on in People’s Park and was getting into enough trouble protesting herself.
Jeff continued to tell me that he had participated in the protest on May 15th, 1969 and that the Police had opened fire on them as soon as they started marching down the street. He was one of the thirty people that suffered a gunshot wound that day.
I thought back and saw myself with a protest sign in the 60s at Place Ville Marie in Montreal and people asking me if I was from San Francisco. Was I really helping the movement while over one hundred people got injured that day? I did not get hit with a club, nor was I tear gassed. All people did was take pictures of me and I now felt like a pacifist.
I was really hanging on to the edge of each word now and asked him what happened next. The next day he told me there was a planned riot that even the police knew about. Jeff felt that it was a no win situation and he opted out and became part of the woodwork. He decided to get a teaching degree, dabble in drugs and try to discover the secret of the Universe. Didn’t we all?
For thirty five years he forgot his hippie ways until a heart attack knocked on his door in 2005. After that he said he needed to make his final mark in life. There were wars to protest but no one was listening he sighed. So he decided to become Father Christmas not just for the month of December but for every day of the year.
I had not seen Jeff in a long while and one day last week there he was in full Christmas glory walking down the street. He sported a black top hat with a rainbow ribbon around it. His white sweatshirt with multiple Santas simply said “Ho Ho Ho”. Jeff’s beard and hair were also longer than I remembered. I laughed as he gave me a hug and asked him jokingly if he was Santa now. He looked at me seriously and said,
“How did you know that?
I giggled and said it was not hard by his Christmas inspired outfit. He told me of the heart attack and wanting to have some meaning in his life before he hit the final commune in the sky. Jeff mentioned the senior residence he lived in now and told me about the elderly people living in there all alone. He looked me straight in the eye and told me he had decided to make people smile and he would forever now be Father Christmas until he died.
I looked at him and understood. I smile and talk to strangers every day whether they want the greetings or not. Both of us feel we have a purpose in life and come hell or high water we are going to execute it. Jeff looked at me, smiled and tipped his hat. He looked at me straight in the eye and said,
“Linda, as Father Christmas I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and you must continue to pass this message on.”
So to each one of you I wish you happiness and peace. You see People’s Park still exists and protesters like Jeff helped keep that park open. It was all about being able to remain free in thought and word, and that is something we should never take for granted.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Father Christmas and his elf named Linda.