Published December 26. 2010 4:00AM Updated December 26. 2010 4:04AM
It was the first Christmas after 10-year-old Bobby Erickson's older cousins had come home from serving in World War II, and the mood was celebratory.
Extended family gathered in an apartment in Jamestown, N.Y., a community of laborers and immigrants, largely Swedes and Italians. At the top of a red-brick, four-story building called "The Block," Erickson and his family observed the holiday on Christmas Eve.
"There was good food and drinking for the adults," Erickson recalls, including his father, a Swedish immigrant. Normally a quiet man, he would come home with acid burns on his hands and clothes from his job degreasing car radiators.
"He was proud to be a Swede, but even more proud to be an American," Erickson says.
He was obsessed with finding the perfect Christmas tree, going so far as to cut off branches and rearranging them to cover up bare spots. The tinsel had to be applied one strand at a time.
That night they ate limpa, a Swedish rye bread, brown beans and ham and did the dishes. Then Erickson and his 6-year-old sister Nancy waited for the big moment: Santa's arrival.
"We were in that stage where Santa is a reality but ... I think you weren't really sure," he recalls. "But remember, Santa brought you a lot of nice things, so who wants to pop that bubble?"
Following tradition, they caught sight of Santa appearing on the porch.
"Of course, we're all excited, and the adults are ginning up the excitement," Erickson says. "But when Santa comes in, Santa had this interesting way of greeting people."
The Santa they knew waved and said "Ho, ho, ho." Not this Santa. This Santa extended a hand to each person and dutifully nodded his head with each shake, just like the Swedes did. And he had an accent, a familiar difficulty pronouncing the "th" sound.
"That's the first time Santa ever did that. Of course we began to wonder," Erickson says.
But the real problem was Santa's incessant chatter.
"The cousins - they're big guys - detected this Santa was just a little overboard here," Erickson says. "And they started to warn him: 'Now Santa, just be quiet and distribute (the presents).' "
But Santa continued to chat. Finally the cousins took action.
"Santa, if you don't shut up this minute, we're going to throw you over the porch railing!" they said.
Bobby and Nancy cried: "No, no, don't throw Santa over the railing! Santa, be good!"
Santa finally got the message, finishing passing out the presents and stealing away from where he came.
"Pretty soon my father reappears," Erickson recalls, "and pours himself another drink."