- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Once upon a time, back in the dark ages of the mid-20th century - back when families gathered around their four-channel black-and-white television sets each night, back when children pored through Sears catalog “wish books” daydreaming of toys they wanted from Santa, back when Christmas was a holiday that came after Halloween and Thanksgiving - Blinkey came into being.

Blinkey would have been an ordinary Santa doll, save for his single talent. He blinked. On, off. On, off. Over and over, hour after hour, he would attract attention with the hypnotizing flashing of his bright red 7.5-watt-bulb eyes.

A baker, Michael Fields Sr., had bought the factory-made Blinkey to decorate the window of his Central Avenue pastry shop in Staunton, a small town in the Shenandoah Valley.

About 20 inches tall, Blinkey wore a red cloth suit with fur trim, black books and white mittens. A built-in flasher activated the blinking eyes; passersby had never seen anything quite like him.

Each Christmas season in the late 1940s, Fields Sr. stood Blinkey in his shop window.

Fields and his wife, Elizabeth, had a daughter, Sandra, and a son, Michael Jr. Each Christmas Eve, after the little ones went off to bed, “Santa” set up and decorated their Christmas tree to surprise them in the morning. And every Christmas morning, Blinkey had “magically” vacated the bakery window to join the family beneath their newly decorated tree.

There he stood - Blinkey, blinking - through the excitement of Christmas Day and the days following.

Michael Jr. came to claim Blinkey as his own - or, as he would recall years later, “After Christmas they couldn’t him away from me.”

Blinkey would stay in young Michael’s room for many more weeks. When the boy seemed to lose interest, sometime around April, his parents would take Blinkey to rest in the basement box amid lines of Christmas lights until the next holiday season.

Then, Michael Jr. and his grandfather would go down to the basement to test the lights and greet Blinkey once again.

By 1950, the pastry shop had grown into a wholesale baking business and didn’t need a Blinkey Santa Claus. Blinkey remained with the Fields family full time.

Young Michael started school. Blinkey became a popular visitor, spending the last few school days before Christmas entertaining classmates with his blinking. The students had to finish their classwork before the teacher allowed them to watch Blinkey blink.

Blinkey would return home for Christmas break to assume his place by the family tree.

This routine kept up until Blinkey made it to third grade or so.

When Blinkey’s built-in flashing mechanism broke in the 1950s, Fields Sr. rewired him so he could be plugged into a wall outlet and continue blinking those red eyes.

The years went by. Michael Jr. was growing up. He met a vibrant young woman, Charlotte. The two were engaged New Year’s Eve of 1970.

They moved to Fredericksburg in 1972; their sons, Jonathan and Patrick, were born in 1976 and 1978.

Life brought its joys and challenges. Days were busy.

Blinkey’s wiring was cracked and frayed. Deemed a fire hazard, he was put in storage. Under their Christmas tree, the boys would find much-prized gifts that included a battery-operated toy motorcycle, a Nintendo set and a Frogger video game.

The boys grew up. In 2000, Michael and Charlotte moved to a new home in Spotsylvania County.

While moving, the couple rediscovered Blinkey. That Christmas, Charlotte Fields decided Blinkey should come out of retirement. Concerned about safety related to the old wiring, the Fieldses left Blinkey unplugged, and the now-unblinking Blinkey once again took his place amid the festive decorations in the family room.

“He stands by our fireplace every year. I’m sure he’d like to sit. He’s as old as I am,” Fields, 68, remarked with a laugh in a recent interview. He added that Blinkey “lays down the rest of the year in the closet.”

Fields said guests gravitate to Blinkey, still a novelty, despite the bright lights of elaborate 21st-century holiday displays. Fields has never come across another Santa Claus doll like Blinkey.

Last year, Fields and his wife received a most memorable of Christmas gifts: The announcement that their first grandchild would be arriving in July 2014.

This Christmas, Patrick and Chrissy Fields’ son, Austin, is getting his first glimpse of Blinkey.

Paw-Paw Michael Fields rewired Blinkey so he can blink again.

___

Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/

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