I believe it was 1989 or thereabouts when I first saw the man that inspired me to write my latest children’s book, “The Light Man.” As I recall it was cold and drizzling rain that night in December. The officer directing traffic bundled in his poncho waved his flashlights signaling it was our turn to enter the neighborhood on Oasis Avenue.
It was a mesmerizing experience to become completely immersed in so much Christmas cheer all at once. There were lines of cars. The whole block was lit from one end to the other with any number of dazzling light displays. Cars were moving with headlights off. Traffic moved slowly and in short car length intervals.
You could hear the motors running, people talking, voices and laughter coming from down the street as we rounded the corner. There we met a man wearing a white suit and hat with white shoes and a black bow tie, all of which had a glittering array of blinking lights attached. He was quite a sight walking beside the automobiles, covered head to toe with twinkling lights and waving at everyone in their cars. You could hear them exchanging a “Merry Christmas!” with each other and see the tail lights glow as cars stopped just long enough for him to pass out candy canes to the little ones tucked inside.
As we got closer, I reached up on the dash and got my Kodak Funsaver disposable camera ready. I wanted to get a picture of this guy! Brake lights went dark on the car in front of us letting us know it was our turn to meet this spectacle of light. He walked over and leaned down, I suppose to see inside the car better. He smiled and waved as we greeted each other with our own hearty “Merry Christmas!” That’s when I snapped the picture.
It would’ve been a really great photo too…if the flash had worked like it was supposed to. I guess thats why they call them disposable. As it happened though, I did get a cool looking color negative that I kept for a long time. They say in some cultures the natives will kill you if they catch you taking their picture because they think it steals their soul. I dont know about that. But there is certainly something mysterious in the way a camera catches a moment in time and holds it captive. For years I would take that negative out and hold it up to the light and there he was, frozen in time, smiling and waving with one hand, a handful of candy canes in the other. The look of pure joy on the face encapsulated on that Kodachrome film was amazing! How I wish I still had it.
Before I sat down to write this piece I tried to find out more about the man. I asked around on different social media sites and even searched the archives of the local paper hoping to find an article or a photo…something to prove to myself he existed.
I began to realize while scanning through 25 years worth of old newspapers on microfiche at the local library, that although my curiosity about the man was reasonable, I already knew all I needed to know. I didn’t need to go knocking on doors to find proof. The film may be lost. But the memory is forever etched in my mind.