Author: Karsemeyer, John

Santa Claus and Bill Monroe

Every town and city all over the world has one. The appearance happens for a few weeks, and only during this season of the year; every year. You can’t miss it, unless you keep you eyes closed. It is red, white, black, and wears spectacles. Yes, you are right, it is Santa Claus.

The being of Santa Claus in the town of Sonoma, California has been the same for over thirty years. The being has been disguised, but the town’s people who are “In the know” have seen through the red and white suit and hat, black boots, white gloves, spectacle and long white beard. They know who makes the Sonoma Santa “tick.”

The “who” that consistently takes the form of the Holiday Season’s most non-religious favorite person in our Wine Country town of Sonoma is known as David “Lumpy” Williams (“Lumpy” is a nickname that he was given early in life, and he liked it and kept it). If you Google, “A man with a big heart,” you should see a picture of Mr. Williams (at least that’s what I think).

During the Christmas season in the Wine Country, this Santa Clause type person is as ubiquitous as a grape vines. He’s everywhere: on the plaza; on the fire truck; on the local TV station and radio; in the helicopter going from place to place; and going down the chimneys of every home on Christmas Eve.

When not in his Santa suit you could find him directing the local Boys and Girls Club, making sure national bicycling events reached a successful conclusion, working with people who have developmental disabilities, care giving for the elderly, and a bunch of other “bucket-list” to do’s.

Way back in the 1970’s I got to know this out-of-suit Santa while we were working together providing recreational activities for a group of the locals. During that time I became aware that he liked a variety of music, and somehow he stumbled into bluegrass music (like many of us). Now truth be told, I had just tip-toed into the waters of bluegrass music, knew a little about it, but not much.

Oh I had heard of Bill Monroe, and had heard his music, but just on records (you know, those big black discs that people use these days as Frisbees). Truth be told (again), Bill Monroe didn’t do that much for me; take it or leave it, don’t ya know.

Back then, for a birthday present, Lumpy gave me a double record album, “Bill Monroe at Bean Blossom.” I was mildly impressed. But then Lumpy said, “And I’m taking you to a Bill Monroe concert in San Francisco at The Great American Music Hall. I’ll pick you up a week from this Saturday.” Lumpy (Santa) gave me the gift of Bill Monroe. Thinking about it, he was always giving something to somebody. Who was this guy?

You have, I’m sure, heard of conversions? After my first Bill Monroe live concert I became one of the converted. No doubts, no words to explain it, no turning back, I was hooked on the Father of Bluegrass, with Kenny Baker playing fiddle a close second. No doubt this has happened to some of you?

Many years have come and gone since then, and although I haven’t worked with Lumpy for a long time I would intermittently run into him in town. It’s a strange thing, but no matter how long a time period had elapsed, Lumpy always made you feel like it had been a day ago, not a year or two.

On October 5th of this year I had a rare chance opportunity to have dinner with Lumpy (after all, even after Santa’s busy holiday season he is all over the place the rest of the year, behind the scenes, doing good things). It was over a year since I had seen him, and as he extended his hand I took it, but I also gave him a hug; it just felt like the thing to do. After dinner he left for another event; some kind of political awareness thing, with Santa helping to get the right candidate in the right office. I left, thinking it was good to see Santa again, even out of his red and white suit.

On the 17th of October, out of the blue, like a smack of lightening to the face, I received notification that Lumpy had died. I knew that he had a bad “ticker,” even though everyone knew he had a good heart. Even so, that situation was supposed to be under control by the doctors and modern day technological devices. In the afternoon as Lumpy was driving alone on the 101 Freeway headed south, he suddenly knew that something was not right. But at the same time he also knew what to do. He pulled his sleigh onto the shoulder of the road, and that was the last earthly thing he did.

No, it wasn’t Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, but it was the day Santa-Lumpy gave the gift on life to some unknown driver(s) on the overcrowded Hwy 101 freeway in San Rafael, and they didn’t even know it. As his heart gave out, he was still giving.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause.” There always has been, and there always will be.

Posted:  12/8/2012

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