Nuts and Bolts: From Candy Canes to Tonka Trucks

Santa made his first appearance in my little world in the early ‘60s.  We were five years old, Dean — my identical twin brother — and me.  We were in the Rodeo Firehouse and the memory is indelible; who can forget meeting Santa?  But what stands out sixty years later is how that community activity and others like it — the parties, festivals, and celebrations that define a small town – also create its identity.  Meeting Santa that day turned out not to be a one-off encounter.  Santa and I became life-long friends; he taught me much of how great small-town life can be.

But before I continue, let me share this bit of important news.

Santa is coming to Benicia!   This December at Ace Hardware, we are proud to host Santa for three appearances, on the first three Saturdays in December: 3rd, 10th, and 17th.  Children are welcome to sit in his lap, have a chat, and parents and loved ones can take a photo.  Mark your calendar:  10am – 3pm each Saturday.  After a long pandemic break, we are honored to have Saint Nick visit Benicia!

Back to the firehouse. 

Earlier that day, the Lions Club sponsored a free holiday movie at the Rio Theatre in downtown Rodeo.  The program began with a series of cartoons but once the feature began, I went from entertained to scared-as-hell.  Five-year old’s like cartoons — and there were two — but after that, the movie began with fire breathing dragons and I lost my nerve.  It was a relief to leave the mythical English countryside and the creepy dragon when the movie ended.

That evening my father took us to the Rodeo Firehouse where, as the Tri City News had reported, Santa would appear.  There in the engine bay, Dean and I walked around the huge, brightly colored red fire engines which matched our toys at home.  What’s more festive than Santa and red fire engines?!  After hot dogs, Santa appeared and we sat on his lap for the first time. That firehouse visit had a tremendous impact on my brother; at UC Davis, he interned at both City and campus fire departments and after graduating, he joined the Phoenix Fire Department serving as a paramedic-captain for thirty years.   

Later, as teenagers, we joined the Crockett Boy Scouts where we met Don Tacconi, a tall, strapping man who ran the tool room at the local sugar refinery. 

An Eagle Scout, Don was a natural raconteur and at meetings, campfires, or wherever there was a group gathered, he would often hold court telling stories.  One stunned us.  To a room full of scouts, he outlined in glowing detail the day when Dean and Gene “sat on my lap.”  He did not share this with malice or wanting to haze us; rather, he spoke with affection that can only be described as small-town.  Crockett was like a huge family where one celebrates milestones.  He was both revealing and reveling in his role as Santa.

Don’s warmth blossomed into a lasting relationship.

When I returned to Crockett to take over the hardware business, Don was there.  A tool expert, he visited Pedrotti’s often, not to shop or talk shop, but to shoot the breeze and tell stories.  With his wife, Marge, he has a side gig as the local engraver and that’s when the three of us started working together.  Witnessing the slow decline of business in town, we were all deeply concerned and decided to organize a Chamber of Commerce.

What seems to be a common denominator of leaders like Don in many small towns is their love of community.

Don served in many capacities – a fireman, Scout leader, union president, Chamber president, and as Santa.  Assisted by a loving wife, they were a strong team, a positive force in a town.  Like so many civic leaders, all work together in a tightly knit community to get things done.

Don as Santa

Santa Claus. Don Tacconi, 1958.

As the political climate continues to heat up and as tempers flare, let us not lose sight that conflict puts our community at risk.  Isolated and alone we are vulnerable. But together, with patience, understanding and a willingness to listen and hear each other, we are stronger.  May Santa’s embrace of young children teach us how to embrace each other.

Happy Holidays!

Gene Pedrotti