Christmas is just a few days away. Essayist Peter Smith sent us a story about one of his favorite Christmas memories. It's about a man named Mr. Dinklenberg.
Smith: Mr. Dinklenberg was the school janitor, and whenever his superheated radiators stultified the afternoon third grade classroom to the point where someone threw up, Sister would send me to find him.
I would go down to the basement, past the lunchroom, through a door, down another flight of stairs to the boiler room, which smelled of heating oil and sweeping compound. He would be sitting on a straight chair, smoking Prince Albert tobacco and reading the newspaper by the light of the fire from the open furnace door.
I would give him my news. He would nod. I would return to class and a minute or two later, he would appear silently, take care of business, and just as silently, disappear.
This was December. The radiators were especially hot as he worked to get the system tuned for the year. Classmates were dropping like flies. I had to go find Mr. D. a lot.
It was Advent, too, and I had given up candy. I hadn't wanted to, but I thought it was a sin to eat candy in Advent. Day after day, week after week, I wrestled with temptation. But I had fought the good fight. I had been pure. I was feeling holy. Right up to the last day before Christmas break when a tall, skinny, all-but-mute Santa Claus showed up right before the final bell.
He mumbled a few words to Sister, then passed up and down the aisles, smelling of sweeping compound, heating oil, and Prince Albert tobacco, handing out candy bars, "Ho-ho-ho'ing'" under his breath.
"Ho-ho-ho, kid," Santa Claus said to me.
I looked down at my desk. Where everyone else got one candy bar, Santa had given me two.
Advent ended ten minutes later on a sidewalk on the way home from school. I ate both candy bars and immediately fell from grace. To this day, you can see the mark on my Catholic schoolboy soul.
When I die, I'll be sent to my own private Purgatory-down in the basement, past the lunch room, through a door, down another flight of stairs to the boiler room, where I'll spend a couple millennia worth of Advents smoking Prince Albert and reading the newspaper with Mr. Dinklenberg.