Rose Post column: Santa's still busy at Harold Hill's house

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

GRANITE QUARRY — Harold Hill just isn’t ready to turn Christmas loose yet.

Maybe in a week or two.

Or more.

But not now.

If he decides Christmas is past, he’s got another year to wait before he can wreck Santa’s sleigh in his front yard and get the reindeer up and Santa himself out of the gutter around the roof of his house and …

Well, truth is, he likes to make up stories and let them play themselves out.

And if Christmas is past, he’s going to miss Comet trying to stuff the toys down the chimney and poor Rudolph coming unglued.

“That’s probably because he forgot the flier’s first command to keep your nose up when you start to land,” he says.

None of Santa’s reindeer kept their noses up, but all of them are still attracting Christmas attention even if the New Year is almost here at the Hill house and their daughter Happy East’s house next door on Bradford Drive in Granite Quarry.

Who knows, Santa might stay in that gutter and leave his reindeer all over the place until next Christmas.

But if you know Harold Hill, you know that’s unlikely.

He’s the man who loves to tell people he’s lived in 43 houses in his 91 years and can cure warts.

Not that either of those bits of information have anything to do with Santa’s visit to his house in Granite Quarry.

Santa showed up there because Harold wanted to create a special Christmas decoration for his family and his house this year. Happy helped him with construction, but the story he created is all Harold.

And his neighbors were so proud they called to say somebody ought to pay some attention to what he’s done.

“We’re so proud to have him as a neighbor,” one said. “This creation was built outside by Harold in his wheelchair off the tailgate of his truck,” and everybody kept stopping by to watch him do it.

He broke a hip the end of July, and he hasn’t fully recovered from that.

It’s the second broken hip he’s survived, says his daughter, Happy, so named because she was born on New Year’s Day 1949.

“Someone said she was Miss Happy Birthday,” her dad says, and from then on she’s been called Happy.

“He broke the right hip when he was 89, and the left one this past July,” she says, and he was in the hospital because of it and then got pneumonia.

“And the doctors were not very optimistic,” his daughter says, “but he’s a very strong, tough man. And when Thanskgiving rolled around, he said, ‘I really want to make a Christmas scene for the children in the neighborhood of Brown Acres to enjoy.’

“My mom — her name’s Janelle — didn’t want him to try to do it. She thought it was too much for him, but in his usual persistent way, he pursued it.

“He put the wood on the back of his truck and burned up two old saws trying to get it cut.”

Once cut, Happy says, “he drew the design freehand on pieces of plywood, and then he did the engineering. He figured out how the pieces needed to be fit together, and he built a chimney to fit on the roof.

“He had to figure out the angles, and he had me going up on the roof, and at one point, I told him he had to call the fire department to get me down because I was afraid to come down. I said, ‘Daddy, you don’t realize I’m not a teenager any more!’ ”

Realize it or not, he told her what to do.

Most days, she says, “he sat outside a lot of afternoons in his wheelchair, doing the painting. He brought some of it in the house and did it there against my mom’s will.

“But he just kept working at it every day for about three weeks. It felt like forever.

“So many neighbors came to the door,” she says, to tell him how nice it was for him to do something special in the neighborhood. They were impressed that at his age, he’d get out and do something like that, and as a special gift to him, our neighbors came up on Christmas Eve and caroled. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

When he started, she says, “everybody thought that wood would just sit in the truck and get rained on.”

But her dad had made up his story — he always makes up stories to go along with his projects — and he likes it.

“Santa’s sled had crashed, and that’s why Santa Claus is reaching down to get the toys the reindeer were trying to hand up. One is on the other’s shoulder.

“And the sled is turned down with a broken runner, and the other reindeer are trying to drop the toys in the chimney. And there’s another reindeer on the ground. He’s dazed because the sled may have hit him.

“Nothing,” she explains, “is simple in daddy’s stories.”

During her dad’s working years, he was superintendent of the shop of a road-building company, and he designed and built asphalt plants and maintained all the equipment.

But even then he made Christmas something special.

“When I was little,” Happy says, “he did a Christmas scene and at some other time of his life, he made a Christmas scene.

“He just loves to do things, and once he thinks them up, he’s determined to see if he can do it.”

She remembers the year they lived in Virginia and it snowed on Christmas Eve.

“And I got real excited because I thought the next day I’d be able to see sleigh tracks in the snow because we had snow on the roof. And my dad got up on the roof in the middle of the night and made sleigh tracks and reindeer hoof prints.

“He has always been a fantastic, amazing, wonderful, loving man.

“I’m sure we’ll take it down like next week. We usually try to have things put away the first of January.”

But if they don’t, well, they won’t worry about it. They’ll just keep looking and enjoying their Christmas house.

“He has a disease called MDS which means his red blood cells don’t function properly. He takes shots once a week to counteract that. It leaves him in a weakened condition.

“And add that to what he’s doing, pushing himself to do something like this. A lot of people would lay down and say, ‘Come wait on me,’ but that’s not for my dad.”

It’s much more likely that he’ll be saying, “C’mon! Let’s get going! We want to be ready when Santa gets here.”

But he doesn’t need to worry. He always has been.

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