Final sleigh ride.

Every collection of professionals has their own language and idiomatic expressions. Santa Claus and his helpers are possessed of a unique vocabulary, much of it rather secretive so as to keep the mystery alive. We’re not exactly Freemasonry but we do have some things we don’t say in public.

One thing we do talk about in public is “The final sleigh ride.” It is our way of saying that one of our brotherhood has passed away. When you attend some of our annual meetings you’ll hear a list read in remembrance of those gentlemen who have died in the previous year. It’s always a little sad, but part of the scenery when most of the people involved in the activity are over 60, heavyset, and sedentary (that chair kind of molds to your tuchus after a while.)

I have managed websites for some Santas over the years. It’s kind of fun seeing what they are up to from a professional standpoint. They do some interesting things and visit with lots of people. And they need me to keep the schedules current on the web page.

Over the last few years one of my customers has been Bob King of Aiken, South Carolina.

Santa Bob King

Bob would get mad at me on an annual basis because I’d forget to bill him for the site. It wasn’t a priority for me, I knew Bob was good for it and I wasn’t stressing about getting an invoice out. But he’d insist. Bob was that kind of guy. He wanted things done the right way – it comes with having personal honor.

This year I didn’t get any updates to the schedule via email. I didn’t think about it except at work around 2 in the morning. I wasn’t going to call Bob and risk waking him up, and I forgot to email him when I got home. After several weeks of thinking about it I finally remembered to send him an email. I figured I’d get a chastisement about billing and a schedule at the same time. I needed to get it done, Christmas is already upon most of us who are professional Santas.

After a week went by and I had no response I knew something was wrong. I went to the web page and dialed his cell phone (sleigh phone to the uninitiated) in hopes that I’d catch him before I went to bed. I got the dreaded message that Bob’s phone was disconnected.

I knew that was bad. Bob wasn’t the type to let details like paying the phone bill slip. So I googled him and found his obituary. I watched the video, sat and prayed for him a few minutes and then called his wife. She was very gracious about taking my call. Bob passed away just a short time ago and it’s certainly got to be a raw spot on her heart after 44 years of marriage. I let her know that I’d be leaving the website up with a memorial message if that was ok with her. It was. The website will go down at the end of the Christmas season. It seemed only fair to leave it up for a while because I know, and she reminded me, that Bob directed people there to check the schedule for availability. It seemed the best way to get the message out to his following.

Yes, every good Santa has a following. I know for a fact that people check my website regularly to see where I will be appearing. They call me when it’s not updated and they have a question. I appreciate that and look forward to their visits each year. It’s always humbling to be sitting in the chair at Midtown Global Market and have people bring their children by for the 5th, 6th, or 7th straight year of pictures with me. I’m a part of that child’s history. It’s an honor.

And this year, in Aiken and the surrounding area, Christmas will be a little less bright and cozy with the passing of a local Santa. The families who came to see him at Bass Pro Shop won’t be getting the continuity of pictures they had grown to expect. I’m sure the fellow who replaces him will grow into the role, but for now those boots seem awfully big and hard to fill.

Bob’s probably laughing about this from Heaven. He finally got me to send the first email in all these years and he wasn’t there to respond. I’m sure he’s hanging out with the original Saint Nicholas of Myra. The two of them comparing notes with some of the other legendary figures of Christmas about what they brought to the celebration of Christ’s birth. And above them all, Jesus is glad to have one of His better children home in Heaven.

I’ll be thinking about Bob when I visit this year. He was a gentle man and a good man. Who will you be thinking about this Christmas? Is there someone special in your life that won’t be there this year for the first time? Is it a special memory from your youth that you wish you could recapture? Or is it just the hope that Jesus’s birth will be important in how you live your life in the coming year?

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