Harwich Resident Recalls Christmas In The Bronx In New Book

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local authors

Author Sebastian Mudry. COURTESY PHOTO

This book, “A Bronx Boy’s Christmas Story: When I Believed in Santa Claus…” comes with a spoiler alert from author Sebastian Mudry of Harwich.

If you plan to read the book aloud to someone age seven or under, do not share the book’s subtitle. The subtitle, of course, gives away the spoiler that Santa may not exist.

Those seven and under will say, “Well, doesn’t everyone believe in Santa Claus?” Mudry said during a telephone interview last week.

The 35-page book is illustrated with whimsical drawings by landscape painter Lydia M. Bell of Wilbraham.

Mudry moved to Harwich in January 2009 after vacationing on Cape Cod for many years while teaching psychology at Manchester Community College in Connecticut and working as a therapist in private practice. Mudry, 77, was born in 1944 and grew up in the Bronx. In this book he tells the story of a magical Christmas when he was 7, in 1951. At that time Mudry lived with his parents and two younger brothers in the Castle Hill Quonset Huts — actual quonset huts in the Bronx that served as housing for veterans returning from World War II. Each hut housed two families. A central wall divided the huts into two, but allowed all sounds to pass. The huts had kerosene stoves.

“We were poor kids, all poor kids,” Mudry says.

Mudry’s father worked at Horn & Hardart, the famous automat restaurants. Each year Horn & Hardart sponsored a Christmas party for its employees’ children featuring clowns, jugglers and circus animals. The children were given age and gender-appropriate gifts — Mudry’s was a miniature trophy yacht, with a miniature captain and crew. The gift fed Mudry’s imagination as he used it to travel the world.

“Up the Rhine, to canals in Holland and France, where I swapped my captain’s cap for a beret,” he writes. “Ripped off chunks of just-baked French baguettes and piled on brie, Camembert, other cheeses I could not name, all delicious.”

The year Mudry was 7, an anonymous benefactor threw another Christmas party for 50 or 60 of the “quonset hut kids.” Of the three boys in his family, Mudry, as the oldest, was the only one who attended, as you had to be at least age 6.

“That’s when I believed in Santa Claus,” he says. “The year after, I started having doubts.” In fact, his Ukranian grandfather told him right out Santa Claus didn’t exist, but his Aunt Anne showed him a wrist watch in her bureau drawer and assured him that Santa had left it with her for safekeeping.

The quonset hut kids were taken to a place that looked like a “football-sized” wedding hall. It was decorated with glittery trees and garlands. Christmas music was playing and a feast was laid out. Into this “wintry bacchanal” stepped Santa. This time Mudry’s gift was “a perfect gleaming metal seaplane, floats attached, a spin-by-finger-rotating propeller.” This gift now allowed him to travel the world by air. “I cross the Canadian border to Alaska in summer, my world expands to the limits of my imagination. Europe, Australia, Asia.”

“How could adults be so kind?” he writes. “I cherish, am puzzled, humbled and gloat over this joy.”

Mudry is a member of two writers’ groups at Brooks Free Library — a memoir group and the Rising Tide Writers. Next year he plans to release his memoir, “Son of a Thief,” about growing up in the Edenwald Houses, a housing project opened in the Bronx in 1953.

“A Bronx Boy’s Christmas Story” is available through Amazon.com.