Siesta time was over Sunday and about 140 campers had been roused from their cabins to line up along the main trail through Cradle Beach camp in Angola. The activity had the organized but unhurried look of an emergency drill – all the more so considering that two huge trees that crashed to the ground in Friday’s storms were right behind the kids, being cut up into firewood. Everybody there was still remarking in relief that the trees didn’t hit a cabin just feet away.
On Sunday afternoon, with everyone safely outside and the sun shining overhead, a sound like thunder was again heard in the distance. The rumble was getting louder and closer by the second when Santa Claus, with the Missus perched behind him on his Harley, came roaring around the corner, leading more than four dozen other motorcycles and a host of leather- and denim-clad elves.
With gifts for all, they kicked off the annual “Christmas in July” extravaganza.
Members of the Blue Knights, Gunslingers and Sons of Victory motorcycle clubs, whose memberships are made up of active and retired members of law enforcement and military veterans, cruised through the crowd of children, honking horns and revving their engines as the campers waved and shouted.
And they kept coming. Soon the path was full of bikes – a shining rainbow of Ultra Glides and Fat Bobs and Road Kings.
“Blue Knights! Blue Knights! Blue Knights! Blue Knights!” the campers chanted, before changing their cheer to “Santa! Santa! Santa!”
As counselors lined up their young charges, the riders unstrapped packages and pulled them out of saddlebags and began delivering gifts.
Santa, wearing fur-rimmed red goggles and his usual red suit, then addressed the crowd.
“I did pack my Speedo, so if you could direct me to the pool when we’re done,” he joked, “I’ll be there later tonight!”
Donna Frazita and her husband, Gregory, rode in from Fredonia. She said it was her first time at the camp, which serves children who are disadvantaged or disabled throughout the summer.
“Happy Christmas Eve!” she told a group of girls after all the gifts were handed out. “Can I get a hug from anyone?”
The girls jumped at the chance, and afterward Frazita had tears in her eyes.
“You guys are making my day,” she said. “All these beautiful kids … ”
After about 30 minutes of controlled chaos – much like Christmas mornings in many homes – the Knights and the other riders climbed back on their bikes for the return ride. Some of the campers started a chorus of “Jingle Bells,” and many lined up to slap hands as the bikers rolled by. (According to Santa, they were heading to Mickey Rats for debriefing.)
“It’s the highlight of the summer,” director Bonnie A. Brusk noted.
The celebration is always held during the session with the youngest campers – ages 8 to 11 – and seems to get bigger every year.
Sunday night campers would make their own decorations, snack on Christmas cookies and sing a camp-themed “Twelve Days of Christmas” before heading to their cabins along paths lined with luminarias. Overnight, Brusk said, counselors would decorate the dining hall with evergreen boughs and Christmas lights, and put up a large Christmas tree. This morning, the children will receive more presents and have a “polar bear swim” with ice cubes in the swimming pool before enjoying a sumptuous holiday feast of roast turkey, roast beef and all the trimmings.
“And by evening,” Brusk said, “things will calm down and we’ll be back to normal.”