Harley ho, ho, ho: Echo Toy Run breaks record

Ride organizer Al Sells delivering stuffed bears to Good Shepherd Medical Center in 2011 during the Echo Toy Run.

I have a confession to make — I’m already full steam ahead with the Christmas spirit.

The early holiday displays at stores are a frequent complaint on social media — people chastise them for cashing in early with the shopping season. But I’m not referring to the commercialization of the season. I’m just simply talking about getting into the holiday spirit.

I’ve been “fa la la la la-ing” driving down the street in my Jeep since before Halloween. While many people wait until Thanksgiving to break out the holiday tunes, I usually start hitting play on Nov. 1. However, a week or so before the big candy grab, my husband popped a CD into my player — and the rest is holiday history.

“Songs of Christmas” is a collection of 10 instrumental carols played on acoustic guitar by Carl Tosten. The musician, who grew up in eastern Washington, plays superbly on a DL Noble baritone guitar. While I don’t have fine-tuned ears for music, it seems to have a calming effect — much different than the screeching vocals and power chords of Twisted Sister.

And, although the ‘80s metal band loudly proclaims in one of their hit songs, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” — they did. The band released “A Twisted Christmas” in 2006, taking their piece of the pie in regards to Christmas music sales. However, I think Neil Diamond is the one who really cashed in over the years with a handful of Christmas albums.

In a 2016 interview with National Public Radio, Diamond said he was denied celebrating Christmas traditions while growing up Jewish. He called making Christmas albums “a joyful experience.” For me, listening to his rugged baritone-bass voice lifts my spirits.

Being married to Johnny Vinyl has many benefits — one of them is his interest in sharing his love for music. He has helped me amass quite the varied collection of Christmas tunes.

But even beyond the music, I recently revived a holiday tradition. For many years, during the month of November I would reflect back about people who had in some way touched my life during the year. I would then write them a little card of thanks.

One person I can’t write a note to is Al Sells. An avid motorcycle rider, the Stanfield man organized the Echo Toy Run the past 15 years.

As the community editor, the eight weeks between Halloween and Christmas are my absolute busiest. I receive an extraordinary amount of emails, phone calls and drop-in visits about upcoming holiday activities. And each year, I always looked forward to visiting with Al.

Wearing full leathers and bundled up with a scarf and Santa hat, he sauntered into the newsroom with a bright smile on his face and fliers in hand. Always pleasant, we would chit-chat a bit and then Al would ask if I could get something in the paper about the upcoming toy run.

“It’s the one good thing I do every year,” he often said.

Al died in a motorcycle crash on Aug. 1 at age 55. It’s my hope that Al will be able to hear the collective rumble of engines as family, friends and bikers from across the region gather on Dec. 7 to hold the 16th annual Echo Toy Run in his memory.

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Tammy Malgesini is the community editor. Her column, Inside my Shoes, includes general musings about life. Contact her at tmalgesini@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4539.

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