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Yes Kathleen, there is always hope

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Back in 1897, the question was posed in what was itself a fast changing and challenging time.
The answer given is a standout to this day.
That year witnessed the first subway completed in the United States. It was in Boston.
President Grover Cleveland vetoed an immigration bill because it included a literacy test.
Two days later he was gearing up to write his memoirs. He had handed the Oval Office over to his successor, William McKinley.
Bob Fitzsimmons defeated “Gentleman Jim” Corbett on St. Patrick’s Day that year. It was the first prizefight ever filmed.
In September, with the first hints of fall descending on the Northeastern states, young minds, naturally enough, began to turn to Christmas.
None more so than that of Virginia O’Hanlon.
Virginia — she used her middle name, her first actually being Laura — was a New York City kid whose father was a surgeon working for the police department and a man wise enough to admit that he didn’t have all the answers — even when his interrogator was only an 8-year-old.
Virginia had asked her dad if there was indeed a Santa Claus. Dad deferred to another authority, though not necessarily a higher one.
A newspaper to be exact.
Virginia’s question to the New York Sun was to the point. “Dear Editor,” she wrote, “I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”
The response, in an editorial written by Francis Pharcellus Church, has gone down in Christmas and journalistic lore.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” Church wrote in part.
“He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
“No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
Church answered Virginia’s question all right.
But the question is still being asked. Letters continue to be written.
And Santa Claus, for sure, still has a job to do.
A letter landed on this desk a few days ago. It was a little longer than Virginia’s, but one that searched for much the same answer.
It didn’t ask about Santa Claus. Not directly.
But it was seeking an answer about hope. Hope at Christmas.
It was written by Kathleen, a mother of two girls who lives in Pennsylvania.
Kathleen’s daughters are simply great kids, she says.
They work hard in school, strive hard in sports and, most importantly, look out for their mom whose faith in the lasting efficacy of hope has been sorely tested these past few years.
Kathleen is a single, disabled mom on what she describes as a “very fixed income.”
A father has long been absent from the family home near Wilkes Barre.
The wanderlust that afflicts some men was just about manageable – as long as Kathleen had her own parents around for support.
But moms and dads don’t last forever, even ones who lived by each other’s side for 54 years.
Kathleen’s father passed away from cancer in 2003. He was a big guy, 270 pounds in fighting trim and with a heart to match.
In and between the lines of Kathleen’s letter it is easy to see that her father had a solid grip on life, its joys and its vagaries.
It’s not clear in the letter whether or not he had ever traveled to Ireland, but he would never stop talking about it.
According to Kathleen, “pop” would always be urging his granddaughters to get “sweaters and other things from Ireland” to have about their home.
Pop’s death was enough sadness for the family but in 2004 Kathleen’s mother suffered a stroke so severe that she is now bedridden.
Kathleen herself has been through a series of stomach surgeries and is not in good shape.
But through it all there have been the girls, who are 17 and 10 years of age respectively.
The elder daughter is, according to Kathleen, a straight A student and captain of her hockey team. The younger is more artistically inclined. Both give of their time to local charities supporting research into cancer and lupus.
The girls easily win their mother’s praises when it comes to doing the kind of things that keep a family functioning and together.
“They never complain because they love me and I love them,” Kathleen wrote.
This family is looking forward to a Christmas of less. They will go about what shopping they can afford in an old Buick with a busted gas tank.
And they will make sure that the first thing unwrapped on Christmas morning in their home is the love they have for each other.
But Kathleen is hoping for a little extra this year. Hence her letter to a newspaper.
The little extra is some “Irish stuff.”
Lord knows there’s plenty of that around these days.
But what’s particularly striking about Kathleen’s letter is that she asks for very little.
“Both girls are mediums,” she simply writes at the end of it.
It isn’t easy to write to strangers in this way. Kathleen, on the phone, sounds like a proud woman.
Her love for her kids, her mom and her departed father is something else however.
If letters could light up this one most assuredly would.
Virginia O’Hanlon’s letter posed a big question.
Kathleen’s asks a big one too.
Frank Church answered Virginia’s.
Now who will answer Kathleen’s?

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