The classic 1897 newspaper response to a letter from an eight year old girl asking if Santa Claus existed has always fascinated me. The words, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and the accompanying message of reassurance make me stop and reflect while a feeling of warmth wells up inside as I hear or read them. I’ll never forget listening to veteran CBS anchor and reporter Douglas Edwards read the piece on the radio. Inspiring and sensitive, he delivered the words in a way that made people suspend their Christmas frenzy and contemplate a sincere response to an age-old childhood question.
In 2002, I decided to give this auspicious piece a go on my Christmas on the Coast album. I had met Eddie Jones, former editor of the Nashville Banner in the late 1980s when the paper was still thriving. My wife Gail, who still writes for the now-gone Banner’s main competitor The Tennessean, knew him much better than I did. She told me that even in the twenty-first century, Eddie still typed on a manual typewriter, hunt-and-peck style. While I wanted to read the editor’s words myself, it dawned on me that having an actual editor get us into the piece one stroke at a time would give it some atmosphere and authenticity. I don’t know if Francis P. Church, who composed these classic words, used a typewriter or not, but I still thought having Eddie Jones type away on my record would be an eloquent addition.
By this time, Eddie was on staff at the prestigious Nashville public relations firm now known as DVL. I asked him if he would consider typing for us and he graciously said yes, joking that he may need to get a manicure since his fingers would be recorded. Bryan Cumming, the musical and technical wizard who engineers and produces my recordings, and I loaded up equipment and headed downtown to DVL. With a boom microphone hovering over his old Royal, Eddie Jones worked his magic with an amazingly fast, “Click, click, click.” He only used the index fingers on each hand but pounded out some rapid-fire copy as Bryan recorded.
Not only did Eddie type for us, but Caroline Stoker agreed to read the words of Virginia. The daughter of my dear friends Brent and Jeanne Stoker, Caroline happened to be the same age Virginia was when the letter was written. At age eight, Caroline delivered every line with care and her voice beautifully conveyed the honesty of the question, “Is there a Santa Claus?”
Caroline is now college age and Eddie Jones passed away several years after we did our recording. However, every time I saw him after the CD was released, he would grin and ask, “When we gonna make another record?”
The age in which we now live seems to take every opportunity to rob us of the one thing we all have in the same quantity: time. Throughout my life, the “Yes, Virginia,” editorial has always seemed to give back a little of that precious commodity and has reminded me that there’s more to life than checking things off a to-do list and rushing to the next appointment. The generous participation of Eddie Jones and Caroline Stoker on this record also caused a change in the urgent, get-it-done mentality that sometimes pervades recording studios. We stopped. We listened. We cared. And when we were finished we knew there was hope, as Virginia surely must have known after reading Mr. Church’s words.
Copyright 2013 by Les Kerr