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Classic Cantwell – this column first appeared December 2005
Sorry, I just don’t believe it. I don’t believe there was a little girl named Virginia O’Hanlon. She is the 8-year-old kid who supposedly wrote the letter to the New York Sun in 1897.Virginia, goes the legend, wondered if Santa existed. She told the editor her papa said, “if you see it in the Sun, it’s so.” Oh, please. This is just too perfect. This is a set up.Francis P. Church, he the Sun writer, uses this as a springboard for his famous essay, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Francis goes on about Santa being in your heart blah blah blah.I don’t like Francis P. Church much and I’ll tell you why. First of all, I’m jealous. I’ve been writing for 30 years and no one is going to read a word of it two weeks from now, let alone 100 years in the future. Old Frank, he dreams up this scheme where some little kid writes him a letter and catapults himself into literary history.“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. 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.”Dang it! Why couldn’t I have written that? No, all I can do is write, “Yes, Big Bill, there are people, poor slobs, who actually do drive instead of fly from Santa Fe to Albuquerque.” You think some guy in the next century is going to reprint that? Not going to happen.Mr. Church wrote, “Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.”And I write, “Virginia, it’s a whole different world out there now. Lord knows what you might find dancing on the lawn.” People are going to remember that? Fat chance.Francis Church told “Virginia” people don’t believe that what they do not see. “They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.”Now I’m mad. I’m taking quite personal, thank you, that stuff about little minds.Here’s my theory. Francis Church invented Virginia because he didn’t have a column that week. You’re supposed to be nice to people this season, so what’s a columnist to do? Being a columnist at Christmas is like selling beach umbrellas in Alaska. It’s like opening a snow ski shop in Bermuda.Here’s my stab at Christmas cheer, good will toward men. I wish the very best for my friend, Governor Bill. I hope Santa brings him a year’s supply of super-sized Snickers bars and a new resume writer.Me, Bill, me! Give me the job. Make me as famous as Francis P. Church.
Ned Cantwell welcomes input at ncantwell@ beyondbb.com.