REUNITED WITH MR. BINGLE
This is from my book Some Assembly Required: A Daddy’s Christmas Book.
When I was a little boy growing up in Memphis in the 1950s, we never had a white Christmas. But we always had a Christmas snowman. His name was Mr. Bingle, and he was a Memphis Christmas icon.
Mr. Bingle lived at Lowenstein’s Department Store in downtown Memphis. When my mother and I went Christmas shopping on busy December Saturdays, we always made three stops. We went to the Enchanted Forest at Goldsmith’s, visited Santa Claus at his fake North Pole in Court Square, and went by Lowenstein’s to see Mr. Bingle. Throughout the holiday season, he was prominently displayed in the large window just next to Lowenstein’s entrance on Main Street. He was Lowenstein’s Ambassador of Christmas.
Mr. Bingle was no ordinary snowman. He looked magnificent. He had angel wings made of holly and Christmas ornament eyes. He wore an inverted ice cream cone hat that looked like a Christmas crown, and he waved a giant red candy cane as if it were a royal scepter.
Mr. Bingle even had his own TV show. From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, it came on every afternoon at 5:00. To this day, I can still remember the theme song of “The Mr. Bingle Show.” I’ll sing it for you now, acapulco:
Mr. Bingle makes us tingle with his joy and cheer.
When he comes to town, Christmas time is near.
Mr. Bingle makes us tingle when he comes our way.
His heart’s as big as he is, and he’s always bright and gay.
Oh Bingle, Bingle, Bingle, Bingle, Bingle, Bingle, Bingle
We love Mr. Bingle!
There are two reasons why I never missed an episode of the “Mr. Bingle” show. First, I was madly in love with Mr. Bingle’s co-star, a gorgeous woman named Miss Holly. I fantasized about finding her under a mistletoe display at Lowenstein’s. My intentions were honorable. I wanted to marry her. Mr. Bingle could be our best snowman. But I never even met her. I looked for her every time Mom and I were shopping at Lowenstein’s, but she was not to be found. She must have had a day job.
And the second reason I never missed an episode of Mr. Bingle was that each year the show featured a suspenseful plot in which Christmas was in jeopardy. Each December, Communists or Martians always took Santa hostage or stole all the toys from the North Pole. With each passing episode of “The Mr. Bingle Show,” it would appear that it might finally be a year without Christmas.
But every Christmas Eve, in the final episode of the show, Mr. Bingle, like Mighty Mouse, would come to save the day, in this case, December 25th. He and Miss Holly would foil the bad guys, free Santa, retrieve all the Christmas toys, and put them in Santa’s sleigh. “The Mr. Bingle Show” was great theater, and always had a happy ending on Christmas Eve.
But at some point, about the time the Eisenhower administration ended and the New Frontier began, Mr. Bingle suddenly disappeared. I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but one year December came, and Mr. Bingle and Miss Holly were no longer on TV or in the display window at Lowenstein’s.
I suspect that Mr. Bingle and Miss Holly disappeared from my life about the same time I became a sophisticated pre-teenager who no longer wished to visit the Enchanted Forest or sit on Santa’s lap. But while I was too cool to admit it, I missed Mr. Bingle. Christmas wasn’t the same without him.
And then, about 20 years ago, a Christmas miracle occurred. This time it wasn’t a miracle on 34th Street. Believe it or not, it was a miracle on Canal Street in New Orleans. My wife and I were spending a wonderful early December weekend in the Crescent City, and we decided to do a little Christmas shopping. We were walking toward the entrance of the Maison Blanche Department Store in downtown New Orleans when I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was, prominently displayed in the giant window beside the revolving doors to the store.
“It’s Mr. Bingle!” I shouted, to the consternation of my wife, who grew up in East Tennessee, and therefore never saw a single episode of “The Mr. Bingle Show.” With tears in my eyes, I ran into the department store, where Mr. Bingle and I had a joyful reunion. We partied like it was 1959.
Doing a little quick research, I learned that Maison Blanche in New Orleans and Lowenstein’s were both owned by a parent company, Mercantile Stores, and that while I and other Memphis kids were enjoying Mr. Bingle in the 1950s, he was also a big star in New Orleans.
He welcomed shoppers to Maison Blanche, and appeared on a daily television show on New Orleans station WDSU, saving Christmas in the Big Easy, just like he did here in River City. He had lived a parallel life. He probably had another Miss Holly living in the French Quarter.
Sadly, when Mercantile closed the Lowenstein’s store in downtown Memphis, Mr. Bingle left us and spent all of his time in New Orleans.
And so, on that wonderful day in New Orleans, I did exactly what any Christmas-loving Memphis kid would do. I bought my own Mr. Bingle doll, and carried him back to Memphis.
Mr. Bingle is now alive and well and living at my home in midtown Memphis. He is sitting at the base of my family Christmas tree, guarding the presents.
Okay, so I’m a 69-year-old man with a doll. But thanks to my little snowman, I still get to be a kid at Christmas. Besides, my wife is a dead ringer for Miss Holly.