Santa Claus had to check his list twice when I started being nice
After dropping off my wife Jo Ann at a grocery store and parking our car, I witnessed a touching scene in front of the beer distributor at the strip mall.
It was raining heavily as a young woman emerged carrying a case of beer. Her boyfriend/husband stopped her to put up the hood of her jacket before she carried the case to their car. Who says chivalry is dead?
I don't think I would have handled that situation the same way. I would have held an umbrella over Jo Ann as she carried our case of sarsaparilla soda to the car.
Actually, the manners my parents instilled in me in the late 1950s and throughout the '60s are still with me today. For example, I was taught to hold open the door for women and older people.
This presents two problems. Starting in the '60s, women have taken their rightful place as co-equals with men. Some get insulted if a guy holds open a door for them.
I haven't encountered a negative reaction when holding open the door, but that may be because if I see a potential problem I either hurry up into the store or bend over to pretend to tie my loafers so that I enter after the woman.
The second problem is of more recent vintage. I am finding it more and more difficult to hold open the door for people because, at my age, people are holding the door open for me.
All this finally brings me to the point of this column - seasonal politeness.
This is something every kid knows instinctively, even if he or she has no idea whatsoever what "instinctively" means let alone know how to spell it.
Of course, this can all be traced back to Santa Claus. Who does he think he is making a list and checking it twice to see who has been naughty or nice? Some people might even say he is invading kids' right to privacy.
I would never think of saying that myself. Whatever Santa wants to do is all right by me, as long as he gives me a nice rating and not a naughty one.
(The same holds true with the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS can do whatever it wants as long as they don't call me in for an audit.)
As a kid, I would occasionally resort to good behavior in the hope of having my parents grant my request for a special favor or purchase.
Of course, Mother and Dad knew right away what I was up to, so they would let me go on being polite and helpful. I think they might have bet each other on how long I would keep up my helpful, courteous act.
They would sometimes take pity on me and grant my request if it was not too outlandish. If it was too bizarre, they would offer me a consolation prize.
For example, I once spent a week taking out the garbage and not picking on my younger brothers in the hope of getting my folks to buy me a horse.
I didn't get a horse, but I did get an autographed picture of Roy Roger's horse Trigger. (Trigger was certainly smart, but I still don't know how the horse was able to sign his name.)
Trying to make Santa's nice list instead of his naughty one was a much more involved process. The first problem to be dealt with was a matter of timing.
Unlike stores selling Christmas items by the Fourth of July, kids cannot start their holiday salesmanship until after Thanksgiving.
Look. A kid can only be good for so long. Even with a long list of requests to Santa at stake, a kid can only keep out of mischief for a few weeks.
At least that was the case with this kid staying away from naughty behavior.
My friend Cleopas always started too early and lost whatever nice points he accumulated during the critical period just before Christmas. This was even after someone warned him poetically, "You had better think twice, when trying to be nice."
The other trick was not to start too late with a campaign of helpfulness and cooperation. If you wait too long, the elves already have made up the packing list for Santa's sleigh and your stuff won't be making the trip from the North Pole.
My brothers and I tried to time our final burst of niceness for about 10 days before Dec. 25.
It was obvious when our campaign began. Normally, all three of us would be out of the kitchen as soon as the last cake crumb was cleaned from our plates.
During that time, we would battle each other for the right to help dry the dishes. Of course, the fights to do good deeds had to be kept very low-key.
We tried our best to avoid picking on and teasing each other as part of our niceness strategy.
My brothers and I have must have been pretty successful because we usually got just about everything we asked of Santa. It always pays to be nice to St. Nick.
This is why I trimmed my full beard into a goatee. It's starting to turn white and if I didn't keep it trimmed, everywhere I go people would be opening doors for me thinking I was Santa.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)