Our famil's fourth Santa Claus
A recent photo, taken at a family reception shows my three brothers and me in dark suits, standing side-by-side like an a cappela quartet. Curiously, it occurs to me, each of us, except my oldest brother, had at one time of other played Santa Claus.
HOUSTON — A recent photo, taken at a family reception shows my three brothers and me in dark suits, standing side-by-side like an a cappela quartet. Curiously, it occurs to me, each of us, except my oldest brother, had at one time of other played Santa Claus.
My youngest brother George was a department store Santa for a couple of years. The most athletic of us, he could lift kids onto and off his lap all day long as they placed their toy orders.
My brother Jaime was the celebrity 14-foot-tall Santa Claus when he was in college. He walked the mall at Palm Center, manipulating the upper body like a marionette from the inside. He learned how to choreograph walking and pulling the ropes and putting up with a monotonous recording, while handlers kept kids and adults at a distance.
Over a decade ago, I was the Santa Claus of Yelm, a small town east of Tacoma, Washington, a forested area that in December is snowy. I had friends who retired to a lakefront property and owned the town’s Chief Tavern. They invited me to spend Christmas and then shared their motive. To deliver presents on Christmas Eve, they needed someone none of the local kids could identify.
As Yelm’s Santa for three seasons, my duties were to go to the homes of very young children whose parents had left gifts at the tavern for me to deliver.
Barkeeper John Carpenter had the list of 15 to 20 homes ready. We set out on our appointed rounds around 8 o’clock in a red VW beetle.
For the next three hours, John would drop me off near each recipient’s house, providing me with the names I needed to know, and lifting a red sack onto my back. Invariably, each home had snacks and refreshments, a shot of this and a gulp of that, waiting. The children who were awakened were suddenly shy at this beyond-belief sight. Near the end of the run, the Santa was unusually jovial.
Meanwhile, those Yelm residents with no families and nowhere else to go met at the Chief Tavern to while away the hours over adult libations. Then Santa would burst through the door, yelling that he had lost the damn reindeer. “Any of you boys and girls seen ‘em?”.
The men went golly-gee mystified. Lonely women insisted on buying Santa a drink and slow-dancing to jukebox country songs or to sitting on his lap to tell him what they wanted for Christmas. Many of them cried.
Everyone, including Santa, suspended reality. We all sang Feliz Navidad like José Feliciano and formed a conga line. Next, the town marshal, whose office was next door, would come over to see what the yelling was all about. Then I was gone, leaving the boys and girls wondering, who was that?
I did that the next year and the one after that and then I was gone, too.
Only once afterwards, for a children’s center, did I don the suit, just like two of my three brothers. From behind the beard, I witnessed again how parents and other adults for a moment suspend disbelief and pretend they do it for the children.
Then I remembered a Christmas Eve when I was small and my mother sent us on an errand to the neighborhood grocery store for a bottle of vanilla extract she needed for baking. As we were walking home, I kept pestering my older brother Javier — yes or no — is there a Santa Claus? Mostly he ignored me. Finally, to terminate my nagging, he yelled “Yes!”.
Just as I was persisting how he knew for sure, a shooting star streaked across the sky. “There he goes,” Javier told me.
So I am wrong, saying he was never Santa Claus. Maybe he hadn’t worn an extra-large red suit and fake beard like the rest of us, but he never disbelieved. You can’t point to a shooting star that quickly and not know all along what it is really all about.
[José de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. His latest digital book, sponsored by The Ford Foundation, is available free at www.DayNightLifeDeathHope.com. E-mail him at [email protected].] © 2009