On Saturday morning I woke up to find I had an email from Red Grandy, my father's first cousin, thus my second cousin. Red was a photographer for Stars & Stripes for decades based in Germany near Frankfurt. The thing about Red is that he never exactly tells you the whole truth. Last time I got a similar call, about 10 years ago, I found him at Jimmy's 21 regaling a woman, I would guess to be around 70, about his many adventures covering sporting and political events in Europe.
She said to me, "I can't believe how much energy he has at 90."
"I thought 90?" gave him the bent eye and said, "Yes, he is exceptionally well preserved." Later when she went to the ladies room, I said "90, what's this about being 90? You aren't even 80 yet."
"Sush," he said. "Not so loud. It's much easier to find dates if they think I am older and I might kick the bucket." That's Red for you, so when I read the following email I knew there had to be more to it than just having a chat.
"I can't locate your phone number or I would call you," wrote Red. "The reason is that I will be in Lake Placid at the Mirror Lake Inn tomorrow, Saturday at around 4 p.m. and would like to buy you a drink and exchange stories with you ...Please let me know if you can make it."
Turned out he was coming over to be participate in a surprise 60th birthday party for his niece Connie. Remembering his last party, which I gather was rather over the top, she decided that she wanted to have a quiet observance without the mania of fun that comes attached to her family, Red being hardly the only one with a sense of humor in that crowd. So she decided to come to Placid with her two daughters for an afternoon at the spa and followed by a quiet dinner at the Inn. Little did she know that the family would be in the dining room waiting for her. Little did I know the email was Red's oblique way of inviting me. And little did he know that my job was to hide him and his very obvious 20 year-old brilliant white camper van from possibly being seen by Connie and thus blowing the surprise.
Fortunately it was Placid's Holiday Stroll. Where better to hide out than with a mob of kids in Mid's Park waiting for Santa Claus to show up on a fire truck.
"I told Santa I wanted a train set and a bowling alley for Christmas," said Joshua Farrell, 5, of Chazy."
"Bowling alley?" I said looking at his startled dad. Joshua was the first kid on Santa's lap. I was thinking, Santa's going to need a large sleigh and that's just to cover the first request.
"I told him I can't lift a heavy ball so it has to be a light bowling ball."
"I said I wanted an Angry Bird," said Olivia Grandy, 6, Red's grand-niece.
"An angry bird?" I said. "Like a vulture?"
She gave me the are-all-adults-so-stupid look. Her father Joe said, "Yes, they are all the rage."
"I want an Angry Bird too, and a puppet like King Carl," said her brother Addison, 8. "A knight puppet."
Jordan DeForest, 4, of Lake Placid said," I asked for a race car track."
"Any particular kind of race track? Do you like Formula Ones, Indy Series, dragsters?" I said.
"A McQueen track with a tunnel," said Jordan as his father whispered to me, "Think Disney and their cartoon movie Cars."
"Thomas Gelles, 6, of Placid said, "I will ask him for a science kit. I want to cure diseases when I grow up."
His twin Kevin said," We are both the same age but I came out first by a minute. I want Jack, the villain cat from the movie Puss and Boots, do you know what he looks like?"
"No I don't," I said.
"Well Santa does. Santa knows what all toys look like."
"I have a very long list," said Todd Janny, 7. "I want an Angry Bird, I want a pair of Ugg boots"
"I want Peace on Earth," said Rosemarie Berkezchuk.
"We were trapped on the Polar Express when it derailed," said her friend Rosemarie Kunaszuk. "We were stuck on the trail for three hours. No one got hurt. The fire department got us off."
"I want 10 feet of snow to land on 72nd Street and Central Park West," said Ed Kane. "Make sure you get that address correct."
The streets were not just filled with kids and adults waiting to share their wishes with St. Nick. An array of eateries had set up tables with all manner of goodies which included a stellar homemade mushroom soup from the Cottage, a great three-bean soup from the Green Goddess and white hot chocolate (with a touch of mint) from Dunkin Donuts being served as fast as Mary Dietrich and fellow Kiwanians could pour. Red and I were inspired by a snack from Lisa G's to head down there for two hours of pleasant conversation.
Up at the High Peaks Resort, launch pad for the Yule Log search, the Art Center was holding forth six tables worth of craft activities for kids, a packed place of creativity if there ever was one. Excitement for the adults was the possibly of picking up some free jewels at Mike Belgin's, because the price of whatever you purchase from now until Dec.18 will be refunded if it snows 6 inches on Christmas Day in Lake Placid (not the top of Whiteface mind you).
"I thought it would be fun," said Mike. "On any given day it can snow 6 inches, so what the heck. It gets people talking. I'll probably do it again next year. Let me show something understated but really spectacular, it's a string of rough cut diamonds."
They were dazzling, and so were cousin Connie's eyes as she walked into the Mirror Lake Inn dining room to find a long table filled with relatives as our waiter offered her a glass of champagne. "Oh my," she said. Red beamed.