Each Santa has a wealth of great stories. One of my favorites comes from my first few years as Santa. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember names that well, sometimes faces elude me. But one name, one date, and one little girl are forever stamped on my brain.
Let’s start with the picture:That photo holds a special place in Santa history. If you look at the upper left portion of the picture, you will note a clock. In another version of this picture the full clock is visible. There will be more about that shortly.
I became Santa to help out my friends at Toys For Tots over fourteen years ago. I’d been a volunteer for a long time with them and had done everything in the warehouse from unloading trucks in the freezing cold, driving a forklift, answering phones, and building data bases to track our needs and output from the warehouse. Minneapolis/Saint Paul is one of the biggest programs in the country, as a single entity operates for the whole region. Many places at that time were run out of local Salvation Army operations, fire stations, or recruiting stations. This outfit, with which I was proudly volunteering, had a huge warehouse and lots of volunteers.
And then one foggy Christmas Eve – well, it was a few weeks before Christmas to be truthful, the local media outlet we worked with voiced an objection to the man who had shown up on camera a few times in a Santa suit. I haven’t seen him in a long time, but let’s just say he may have been the impetus for the movie “Bad Santa.” At the least, the television folks didn’t want him around.
The Gunnery Sergeant was bemoaning this little fact when I said, “Gunny, I’m fat and have a beard, how about if I become Santa.” Thus was a career born. God looks out for twits like me, and he put me in the right place at the right time: one of the people I worked with knew a guy who knew a woman who made Santa suits. Cool. I really couldn’t afford one of the Adele’s of Hollywood models, and the crap in the big box store looked like crap. I had taken the biggest step and ordered a suit.
Two weeks later the suit was ready. I met with the seamstress and it was beautiful. (It still hangs in my closet.) It was also a lot of money. Her husband asked if I’d like to work off part of the tab: he was a Santa with way too many jobs to handle himself. I did a few gigs for him that first year and paid off the suit. I also learned that doing the right thing (becoming Santa for the Marines) paid handsomely.
The following year I was a busy boy on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. One of my coworkers had left work early on the 23rd of December to give birth to her daughter. I wondered how they were doing, and it was on my mind all day and through the night. On Christmas morning I decided to drop in on her at the hospital and spread a little cheer.
Upon arrival at the maternity unit they asked me to wait at the nurses desk. “She’s getting cleaned up right now, but then you can go in to see her.” Okay, she’s taking a shower. NO biggie.
Five minutes later the door opened and I was ushered in to the room where people were taking pictures and cleaning up what looked like wrapping paper. I had arrived at the nurses station just as little Ava was being born. In that picture above, if you could see the whole clock, I was getting my picture taken with Ava just 17 minutes after she arrived on the scene. I don’t know of another Santa who can beat that record. If they can, I’d love to hear the story.
Over the past 13 years my suit has changed a few times, my beard is much longer and much lighter, I wear cowboy boots versus Sorrels, and I wear white gloves these days. My joy in being Santa continues to grow each year. There have been children who have gone into remission of their cancer during the years, and others who didn’t see the next Christmas. Knowing I was a part of their lives is an honor and a special thing that I cling to each day of the year.
I no longer do as much with the Marines, and that’s too bad: they are a fine tribe to be associated with in my opinion. I’ve seen Ava on her birthday a few times in the intervening years, but this year she’s far away from Santa’s route on Christmas. However, she’s close in my heart. You see, Ava has blossomed into a wonderful young woman who becomes a teenager in just a few weeks. She’s involved in choir, she’s a good student, and she has a kind heart.
Being Santa is a blessing. Being pictured with Ava 17 minutes after she was born was a miracle. I can’t wait to see her again. For now, I guess I’ll have to settle for this picture of her that her mom sent me this morning.
Merry Christmas, Ava.