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December 24, 2012

Santa walks among us

(Continued)

MEADVILLE — Eldridge’s first beard came when he was a young man in the Navy. He got upset with his captain aboard the USS Loy, a destroyer escort patrolling the Atlantic and then the Pacific oceans in World War II. Eldridge was a sonar specialist working on the bridge.

“I can’t remember what the captain did, but I remember being mad at him for something,” Eldridge admits 60 years later. “I knew beards were illegal in the Navy, so I grew one, not a big one — just a goatee.” The captain took notice, mentioning the beard several times. The captain got more and more aggravated about it, but always stopped short of ordering Eldridge to shave.

“One day, after a while of this, I went up on the bridge and the captain says (Eldridge raises his voice with an authoritative tone), ‘Eldridge, go down and shave off that beard and THAT’S AN ORDER!’ ”

So he shaved — end of story.

Well, not entirely the end. Before he shaved he had a picture taken.

That picture is responsible for Eldridge becoming Santa Claus.

Years later he was going through some of his belongings and found the picture. His wife, Mary, who had never seen the picture or her husband with a beard, was curious and quite taken by the picture. She asked him to grow a beard for her. He refused. He worked for Prudential Insurance and thought a clean-shaven image was better suited for his job.

Eldridge said she kept asking him over and over. After retiring from Prudential he took a job driving the cafeteria van for Crawford Central School District. He told Mary, “School gets out in May. I’ll grow one for the summer, but I’ll shave it off in September.” So Mary got her wish, he grew a beard.

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