Christmas in July: Maureen Tucker’s spirit lives on

There’s an interesting phenomenon that’s been germinating in the American consciousness: Christmas in July.

The concept is popular at sporting events (the North Shore Navigators have had such nights during their time in Lynn), and at least two cable TV stations devote the entire month to running made-for-TV Christmas movies.

I have no idea how the idea ever got started. Perhaps people who are averse to hot weather had the same idea Leroy Anderson did. He’s the person who wrote the song “Sleigh Ride” in the middle of a July heat wave.

If we’re going to do this, however, we might as well put some meaning into it. 

That’s exactly what Lynn native Maureen Tucker did. It was one of the last things she ever did on this earth.

Mrs. Tucker died July 14 after a long illness. At the bottom of her obituary she made one request: instead of sending flowers, she asked that those who mourned her death remember her by making a contribution to the Item Santa Fund. 

Needless to say, it was a beautiful gesture, and not just because it’s our holiday charity. But can you imagine knowing you’re going to die and among your last thoughts is the sad reality that come Christmas, there will be children in the area whose holidays will only reinforce their disadvantages? 

It’s tempting to use Mrs. Tucker’s generosity as a metaphor for all that ails our world today. Here’s this beacon of humanity bursting out among a sea of greed, avarice and acrimony. 

But this is too generous a gift, and under such tragic circumstances, to make it political. 

Her son, John, said Mrs. Tucker was “a well-organized woman who had thought about doing this for a long time.

“She also literally gave to the fund for decades,” John Tucker said. “She’d often leave a message contributing in the name of a brother of mine who had died. It was always very important to her.”

I remember seeing “The Godfather” movie and seeing the bountiful floral arrangements that depicted the reverence with which people viewed Don Vito Corleone. I have been to wakes and funerals in my 66 years where the arrangements have been equally ornate. I’ve even thought to myself, “gee, what will people do for me when it’s my turn?”

Well, I’m going to make darn sure that whatever people do to commemorate my life, it’ll benefit other folks. More and more, people are doing this. Donations are asked for cancer research, and to advance the cure of other diseases — many of them related to whatever it was that caused the deceased’s death.

Others put money toward scholarships in the name of the deceased. It is a very heartwarming trend. People either want to see the work they did in life continue in perpetuity, or they want to do in death what they perhaps were not in a position to do in life. 

The Item Santa Fund was near and dear to Mrs. Tucker’s heart. We at The Item appreciate her gesture very much, and we extend our gratitude and our condolences to her family.

The fund began in 1965, and is now run in tandem with the Salvation Army. We do the bulk of the fundraising and the Salvation Army buys the toys and donates them to needy families. It has  grown into a staple of the holiday season, and others in the community — most notably Lynn funeral director David J. Solimine — get on board.

For me, personally, the most poignant aspects of the drive are the letters families send to the Salvation Army, which are then given to us so we can write the daily stories that are part of the fundraising drive. None of these writers are polished. You can tell some of them struggle with the language. Perhaps they’re still learning. But the honesty about their situations ring out. And there’s one common theme: parents don’t want anything for themselves. They are asking that their children be allowed the same wide-eyed innocence that other kids they see take for granted: the thrill of a gift that they can open on Christmas morning.

We do take a lot for granted in this world. At the same time, we tend to complain a lot too about all the things we don’t have, and will probably never afford to get..

But it’s all relative, isn’t it? When we put our own lives up against those who write letters annually to the Item Santa Fund so their children will have warm socks, or gloves, or maybe even a winter coat, we’re not doing all that badly.

Maureen Tucker and her family obviously figured this out and took the appropriate steps to make sure those people were remembered, even in July.

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