December 23, 2021

Christmas memories: Nursing home residents share stories of favorite past holidays

David Bullock was shopping at Colonie Center 41 years ago with his 5-year-old son.

“I brought my 5-year-old son to see Santa Claus and he wasn’t there,” Bullock said.

The sign said Santa would be back in an hour. Bullock returned an hour later, but the bearded jolly guy was still not there.

“Back at 1, back at 2 and at about 2:30, I see two young ladies dressed like elves pointing at me and talking,” he said, “and I went over to them and said, ‘Can I help you?’”

They told Bullock that the man who normally plays Santa had had a death in the family and wouldn’t be returning that day.

Just two days before Christmas and the mall nearing closure for the day, Bullock volunteered.

That day, Bullock became Santa and played the part for years until his health prevented him from portraying the plump, jolly old elf.

Now a resident at the Slate Valley Center nursing home in Granville, Bullock gets around in a wheelchair and his hands shake with tremors, but he still treats everyone with a boisterous greeting and distributes handwritten Christmas cards to other residents and staff.

The 74-year-old still calls himself “Santa Claus’ helper.”

“I figured, heck, it was a one-time deal,” he said. “They got me into costume and all and I said, ‘I’m going to have fun.’”

There weren’t a lot of kids waiting in line that day, so he decided to spend some time with each child on his lap or next to him in a stroller.

He would talk with them, ask them what they wanted from him for Christmas, sing a couple of Christmas songs with them, hand them a piece of candy and give them back to their parents.

His wife bought him a Santa costume from a Montgomery Ward that was going out of business. He visited malls and day cares, elementary schools and colleges, and dressed up in the red costume for his neighbors’ children, ringing bells bound to a leather strap.

“The kids went nuts,” Bullock said. “It was so much fun.”

And he never charged a penny.

“I did that for quite a while until my knee went bad and I just couldn’t pick the kids up anymore, it hurt too bad,” Bullock said.

But playing Santa has become a family tradition. Bullock’s oldest son, David, has been Santa at malls for many years, and his youngest son, Tim, also has a Santa outfit and portrays the gift-giving saint for friends and family.

“I enjoyed making people happy,” Bullock said. “I really did.”

 

A pair of roller skates
Dorathy Devoe, who turned 100 in July, grew up in a big family on Long Island and remembers their traditional pancake and scrambled egg breakfasts on Christmas morning. She and her siblings had to eat before they could open any gifts.

“Then we were allowed to go, and of course it was a mad rush to find your name,” said Devoe, who is a resident at Glens Falls Center. Devoe came to the area when her son opened an ice cream shop in Lake George.

The best gift she ever received was a pair of roller skates, the metal kind that attached to the bottom of your shoes and could be adjusted with a key.

“We had black paved roads,” she recalled, “and there was a hill just beyond our house where cars went down, and somebody would stop the cars while you came down the hill.”

In the winter they would ride a sleigh down the same hill.

 

Winter was ‘great times’ in Whitehall

John Spizzo, 89, grew up in the village of Whitehall and remembers the great fun of sledding down the steep hill on the side of Second Avenue.

“We were all friends. Everybody there were friends, because we were all Italians,” said Spizzo, who now lives at Glens Falls Center.

Spizzo was raised by his grandfather because his mother worked at the garment factory. His father worked 50 years on the railroad. He always looked forward to Christmas.

“You know, we weren’t rich,” he said, “but things that we got, we really felt quite a bit for them, no matter what we got.”

 

‘We weren’t rich, but we ate good’

Spizzo’s roommate at Glens Falls Center, Jerry Sacco, 85, was born in Whitehall. He moved away when he was 4 years old, but still visited family in Whitehall and often played basketball down at the playground.

“There were six boys and two girls in our family,” Sacco said. “We weren’t rich, but we ate good, had good food, Italian food.”

At midnight on Christmas Eve, his father would wake up all the kids and allow them to open up one gift. Then it was back to bed until morning.

The best gift he ever received was a basketball. He and his brothers went on to play in high school and post-graduate.

Living in Vermont at the time, Sacco remembers playing a tournament in Whitehall, and his brother came down with pneumonia. He received a $25 penicillin shot, which saved his life.

 

Remembering family at Christmas

Penny Baker, 62, grew up in South Glens Falls with her two sisters. They held pizza parties on Christmas Eve, and her parents would host 30 to 40 people at their home on Christmas Day.

“When my mom was home, she loved it,” Baker said. “The more, the happier.”

Baker lost her mother and both her sisters in the last three years. Next to her bed at Slate Valley Center in Granville sits a white Christmas tree decorated with hummingbirds for her mother and butterflies for her sisters.

 

A special family picture

Barb Yedlowski, 73, has a Christmas memory from when she was a little girl on Long Island.

“I remember when we were small, my father used to take pictures,” said Yedlowski. “And he put us all in the box, and he would close the box and we’d pop out of it.”

She always enjoyed receiving dolls for Christmas, said Yedlowski, who now lives at Glens Falls Center.

“One time I got a big doll. It was a walking doll. She was a big thing. I was surprised to get her. She was almost as tall as me,” she said. “It was fun.”

She found out on Monday that her son, his wife and their four kids will be visiting her from Rhode Island this Christmas. She has only been able to communicate with her son via video.

“I haven’t seen him in real life in a long time,” she said. “It’s going to be great.”

As seen on Post Star.

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