First things first; this is not a story. Everything found herein is true. Names have been changed to avoid lawsuits, but that’s about all.
Secondly, I am an agnostic.
For those too quick to judge, let me explain.
An agnostic, by my definition, says that there are some things man cannot know. Knowledge denies faith. Ergo, if you believe, it is because you cannot know. If you know, you do not believe.
I am an agnostic. But there is one thing I believe in.
I believe in Christmas.
I am an actor, and feeling as I do about Christmas did not happen overnight. There was a time I was a disbeliever. I have been a skeptic; even, for a short time, a cynic.
But there came a time that Christmas came up and gave me a bear-hug that it would not release until I joined the fold. It asked nothing of me but that I love my fellow man, or at least his potential. That I celebrate the good that was in all our hearts, no matter how buried it became under normal circumstances.
I have been around the world, seen many cultures and many people. I am consistently struck, not by how different we all are, but how much, at our core, we have in common.
When it all comes down, we will always have more in common with each other than we differ from each other.
All DNA typing comes from less than 1% of our DNA. The rest is identical. 99% of what makes us human is just the same. We all want the best for our children; we all want to be happy and safe. Most of those things that make us feel different are propaganda.
So, I believe in Christmas.
Not the religious holiday, the spirit of Christmas.
So when, as an actor, I got the chance to perform the part, I relished it.
I did so for 7 years.
I was the official Santa at one of the nation’s premiere shopping venues.
These are some random memories and thoughts from those seven years.
The year my daughter was conceived, my wife and I took our first vacation (and my last) though the southwest. We journeyed in Mexico and ended in California with a trip to Disneyland. While in the superior of the two US Disney parks (ask me why, when we have more time) we, for some reason as yet unexplained to me, ended up on the “It’s A Small World Ride.”
It broke down.
For 3 hours.
We heard “It’s A Small World” for 3 hours.
The Manchurian Candidate was brainwashed with less torture.
The second year I was Santa, they set up a “Santaland” exhibit for the children to pass through before the came to have their pictures taken. Delightful little animatronic children from around the world preparing for the holiday.
They were all singing.
For the 8 hours a day that I was there.
Guess what they were singing!
“It’s A Small World!”
For 8 hours a day.
The exhibit lasted 3 different Christmas seasons.
I expected to awaken some morning to news reports featuring me standing on a rooftop with a smoking gun, roaring through drooling, blood-spattered lips, “It’s a small world after all!!!”
It never happened, but it could have.
Most people, when you say you’ve played Santa, want to talk about kids wetting on your lap. It happens, but not that often.
The most striking thing that happens is the irony of the whole thing.
We all spend hours warning our children about talking to strangers. “Don’t go near anybody you don’t know. It’s not safe!”
Then we flop them on the lap of this huge, hairy red guy and have them tell him their deepest secrets.
And parents can’t understand why their children cry!
Then there are the ones who have been threatening the kids with Santa. You would be amazed how terrified some of those children are by their own perceived infractions.
I never asked if they had been good. No kid thinks he’s been good enough. So he has to say, “No,” or he has to lie. Either way, we’re not getting the response we want.
I always asked if they were “going to try to be good between now and Christmas?”
That they can do.
Takes the tension off all concerned.
Then you can ask what they want.
Some come with entire pages taken out of catalogs. Some have lists that could choke a computer database. That’s really okay. You can deal with that.
One little girl asked for, “Peace in the world . . . and roller skates.”
Both obviously doable, and of equal importance. I smiled about that one for a while.
There are some that really get to you.
The kids who say, “Can you just make mommy and daddy friends again?”
I had a couple of brothers who only asked that their brother get, “something nice.” Neither of them asked for a thing for themselves. I hope they both got something as good as they were.
My wife taught me just enough sign language to get through the rare occasion when a deaf child might sit in my lap.
One day a mother, daughter and son walked up in the line. The son sat on my lap and we had a straightforward talk. Then, when he got down, he moved to my right and waited for his sister to get on my lap. Then she looked at him and waited for him to sign to her.
I looked at her and signed, “What do you want for Chirstmas?”
She looked a bit baffled for a second, so I repeated the question.
She smiled at me, and then gestured to “brush off” her brother so she and I could have a private discussion.
When the little girl was through, her mother signed to me, “When I was small, you never were here. Thank you for being here for her.”
Here lady, just take my heart.
One of the things you do, when you are sitting and lifting 40 pound squirming packages onto your lap, is begin to listen “down the line.”
Every now and then you pick up something good you can use later.
One day, a mother and son were about half a block away, talking, and I heard, “Now, don’t forget, Marky, to remind Santa that we’re going to be in your grandmother’s in Florida for Christmas.”
Somehow, it just got filed in the mental rolodex, so that when a little boy sat on my lap with no extra special agenda, I took little notice. But, when his mother said, “Marky, don’t forget . . .” I said, “Oh, that’s right, Marky, you’re going to be at your grandmother’s this Christmas, aren’t you?”
The mother’s eyes opened a little wider.
The child nodded, knowing that I knew this.
“Now that’s the grandmother,” I continued, “who lives in Florida, right?”
The mother’s jaw dropped.
When the child got off my lap, the mother said, as she sent him with an elf, “Marky, wait over there, Mama wants to talk to Santa.”
I smiled under the beard as she approached.
“How did you know that?” she asked.
“I’m Santa Claus,” I said. “I have to know.”
“No, really” she maintained.
“Lady,” I said sincerely, “Didn’t you ever see ‘Miracle On 34th Street?’”
With that I went back to work, and she had a new outlook on Christmas.
But this is the story that all of this leads up to and is the reason for the tale.
In my third year, on a particularly busy shift, I was totally wiped.
I must have seen 200-300 children, and we were near the end of the day.
Then I saw them coming.
I knew this group.
The nearby Children’s Hospital always brought the ambulatory kids for this day.
They were the poorest, and the most sickly of children.
And they were so excited to get to see Santa that it made the day for all of us.
Going though the kids and talking to them was always hard but rewarding. And then a nurse took me aside. She pointed to a little girl, being pulled in a little red wagon, with an IV drip bottle suspended above it.
“Don’t talk to her about AFTER Christmas,” she whispered.
“What’s wrong?” I said, trying to find breath.
“It’s too technical,” she said, almost in tears herself. “She might make it, only we don’t have a piece of incredibly specialized equipment, but we’ll never get the money for it.”
“Money,” I said, without the word having meaning.
“$100,000. If we take it out of the budget, other children won’t get what they need to survive. And the equipment might not be used again for years. They know that they can’t raise the funds for a machine that they might only use once or twice.”
I took a piece of paper from the elf’s desk and told her, “Write down the name of the machine.”
I also told her to put the hospital phone number on the paper.
I went about talking to the last of the children, with my heart in my throat the whole time.
Then, when we finished, I put up the sign that said that I was feeding the reindeer, and walked down the halls of the shopping center in my outfit.
I went up to the main offices of the company that owned the center.
I walked into the main office, and right past the secretary to the Big Man behind the whole thing.
His family had made a lot of money, much of it over the years, from Christmas. Now he was going to be tested.
“Sir,” I said politely, but firmly as I put the piece of paper on his desk before him, “A little girl just sat on my lap who will not live to see the New Year unless someone buys that $100,000 machine for the hospital.”
He looked stunned.
He put on his glasses and read the paper.
He looked up at me sternly.
He then reached out and pressed the button on his intercom and said, “Sheila, bring in my checkbook.”
15 years later I watched that healthy little girl graduate from High School.
I believe in miracles.
I believe in Christmas.
I want Peace in the world, and roller skates.
© C. Wayne Owens