My Parents got divorced when I was very young, so there are a lot of things I thought were normal that I have since found out were not. For example, Most people don’t have two sets of parents, or keep a calendar of which holidays will be spent with which parent, or have two sets of snow boots in the exact same color because they’re too much of a hassle to transport.
I was 12 years old before I realized that the surplus of dancing Santas in my grandparent’s house wasn’t normal. Every year the day after Thanksgiving, my grandmother would set them out as part of her Christmas decorating ritual she would sometimes ask me to help her pick where to display them and we would discuss the merits of different locations, but the same Santas always went in the same places with the special Elvis edition going on the dinning room table. “Jingle Bell Rock” played whenever I pushed the button at the bottom and the Santas would began their mechanical gyrating and sometimes I would challenge myself to have all the Santas dancing at once in what, I’m sure, was an incredibly loud race around the house to hit all the buttons as quickly as possible. I once asked my grandfather where all the Santas came from, and he told me about how the glove factory down the road had once been used to mass produce the plastic Santas. He also told me about the mean, old woman whose job it was to rip the heads off of the defective Santas. She was a very strange woman who, even in such a small town no one knew much about. She didn’t have many friends, and I think the only joy she ever got was from twisting the heads off the flawed Santas.
My grandfather and I were riding around in his truck one Saturday afternoon, as we often did when I would come up to visit, when I thought of that woman.
It was the middle of August, but we still had the Christmas CD playing from when we had first bought it a few months earlier in the gas station just down the road next to Mel’s Fireworks. The album had been recorded by Mrs. Sturgill’s third grade class at their annual christmas pageant and only had five songs. The song “Jingle Bell Rock” was playing in the background and the image of an old, heavy set woman twisting the heads off of the Santas and laughing because of the perverted enjoyment she was surely getting from it popped into my head. I wondered why the Santa factory had closed.
I asked my grandfather about it and he told me the story. The company was founded by Steve Hoover and his girlfriend, who he has since married, and I have yet to figure out their inspiration, but for a few short years they made millions off of the dancing Santas. It wasn’t until Walmart began to produce and sell the Santas that the entire company came crashing down around them. For a while, they talked about a lawsuit and the entire ordeal was well documented in the local newspaper, The Tomahawk.
Shorty after meeting with Walmart’s lawyers though, the brothers became convinced that they couldn’t afford the lawsuit they would ultimately lose. With the patent expired and the owners gone, the factory was closed. Some of the employees were hired by the new factory taking its place and others were hired by the Super Walmart being built in town. Those who stayed took the necessary pay cuts and began learning how to make those off white cotton work gloves that can be found in any gardening department. A few years later, that factory was moved to Vietnam and the remaining workers went to minimum wage jobs at fast food restaurants or at the Walmart that they had all boycotted for the first few months of its existence or for as long as they didn’t suddenly need milk after 8pm when the local grocery store closed.
With many factories in the area meeting the same fate, people began to move away and the small town I had grown up in only got smaller. I still have that album, but “Jingle Bell Rock” has begun to sound a little cheerless lately.
I called my grandmother last week to get more information about the Santas that were such a big part of my Christmases growing up. She joked about how “Jingle Bell Rock” stayed in her head all season because of my inability to deny myself the pleasure of button pushing and she caught be up on all the town news. Harley is having a baby, the elementary school is having their annual Christmas pageant twice this year because of the strong attendance last year, and would I be Mary for the living nativity scene again. She also reminded me to keep a little “mad money” in my car and recommend I get the Tomahawk sent to Sweet Briar so I could stay up to date on all the important things. I’m sure she’s referring to the business section where they do a feature on an “inspirational professional” every month and not the ever growing list of local arrests that we used to read together over Sunday breakfast.
We both sobered up when we began talking about the Santa factory though. She described the woman who took the heads off the Santas again because thats her favorite part and she told me the glove factory is now a self storage facility. Then, she told me a part of the story I’d never heard. When the Santa factory closed, it was only a small arm of the larger company, Blue Ridge Designs, and they still employ people in Boone, NC. She also told me that when the factory closed a lot of the employees were able to get jobs at Appalachian State. The college is now the largest employer in the town with over 1,000 employees, almost 10% of the population. It wasn’t the ideal situation, but eventually almost all the former employees who stayed were hired in town and even though Trade, where my grandparents live, is shrinking, Boone is stable. They even have a Cookout now. My hometown has changed more in the last ten years than it did from the years 1950-2000.
shorten the factory bit
add a location
add biographical information