Every holiday season brings a new story from the season before and this one is no exception. This fun adventure happened right before Christmas at the Costco gas station in Irvine. Carlos, the seasonal Santa, was on his way to the annual Relationship Building Network’s giant Christmas luncheon. He represents Storage West there, helps host the party, and passes out gifts to the members in full holiday regalia!

Santa at the Gas Station

Having not learned my lesson from past years where appearing in public and wearing my best red suit have always caused Christmas concern, I found myself on the way down the road and in need of gasoline. I pulled up in the rather lengthy gas line at the nearby Costco and put the ol’ sleigh in park. It would have been too sensible to have filled up the sleigh with gas the evening before.

About three Christmas songs and two yawns into the wait my sleepy nap was jolted by a very loud and clear, “Hey Santa, wake up!” Looking over my left shoulder to the car waiting next to mine I saw a wonderful gray haired grandma waiving at me frantically out of her car window! “Merry Christmas! Come here! Come here!” she shouted, gesturing with that waving hand.

I hopped out of the Jeep as quickly as Santa could hop. As I reached her window and leaned down, presenting my best Santa face, I came across her husband. He was not nearly as excited nor in as happy a Christmas spirit as his wife.

He was gripping the steering wheel with both hands and staring straight ahead as if he was sure that if he was as still as he could be he wouldn’t be noticed and certainly wouldn’t be any more embarrassed than he already was. I’m sure he was thinking to himself that acknowledging Santa Clause in the car next to him was not the job of a grown man in his seventies. His wife, however, would have no part in missing out on the unexpected gas station opportunity! She promptly grabbed my arm and blurted out, “I want to tell you what I want for Christmas!” And I, wanting no part of missing out on the gas station fun replied, “Well alright, let me get my pad and pencil!”, punctuating my agreement with a hearty, “Ho ho!”

Returning with a large red pencil and a handy “Here For You” pad I licked the pencil tip, cocked my left ear, and waited to copy down the list of goodies the little lady acted like she had in mind, probably thinking that was a smart way to let her happy husband know what she really wanted. Her voice lowered to a whisper and the grip she once again had on my fuzzy red arm drew me closer as she pleaded, “All I want for Christmas is a bright yellow Mercedes S-Class Coupe! That’s it! That’s all!”

About that time, as if planned, the line of cars began to move and her husband, without ever looking my way, shook his head and gently stepped on the gas. I chuckled and waived to her, quickly climbing back into my own car, not wishing to annoy the folks behind me. Her request and her smile were quite sincere. I do hope her husband was really listening!

Ten minutes later, as I finally reached my gas pump destination, I bumbled out of my car and began the process of filling the tank. I was thinking to myself, if I only had a reindeer or two, I wouldn’t have to bother. About that moment I felt a gentle little tap, tap, tap on my shoulder.

I turned around and found myself face to face with the prettiest little long haired girl in her mother’s arms. Her eyes were dark and round and I think I must have turned around too quickly because those little eyes looked a bit startled. She must have been no more than three years old and, although her mom kept prompting her, “Hello Santa!” was not in her vocabulary that day. In fact, she never peeped a word during her Santa visit. You could easily imagine what she was thinking though, with those wide surprised eyes and a little open mouth that never closed in amazement.

I shook her tiny hand and talked to her about happy Christmas things like cookies and dolls and I do think I caught just a bit of a smile when I pulled a candy cane out of my pocket and offered it to her. Her mother just had to have a picture so we arranged that with the nearby station attendant. Then they returned to their car, waving goodbye to Santa all the way!

Another Santa Visitor

Well, the pump was still pumping when Santa’s helper was approached by a woman in her forties. She rushed up to me, apparently fearing I was almost through and about to drive away. Of all things, the dear lady had tears streaming down her face. I don’t know where she left her car but everyone around us was busy pumping gas and going about their business and here she was in the middle of it all actually sobbing big tears at the thought of meeting Santa.

The first words she spoke were, “May I hug you?” A bit worried for her, I held out my arms and she gave me a very large, sincere hug as if she had known me all her life. She never explained why she was so emotional but she obviously had wonderful feelings about the Santa experience, perhaps from her childhood. Seeing Santa that day, albeit one pumping gas into his jeep at a Costco station, seemed to have opened up a whole floodgate of Christmas thoughts, memories, and strong emotions that she couldn’t hold in.

She was short in stature and as she stood in front of me, staring up like a little lost child, I felt compelled to say or do something comforting. I took her head in my hands and, with my two big white Santa gloves, wiped the tears from her cheeks with my thumbs and gave her a little kiss on the forehead. I was hoping that would calm her down and I’m sure the gesture did make her feel better for she wiped her wet face with the sleeve of her coat and gave me one more hug saying, “Thank you Santa, you’re wonderful!” Then she shuffled back between the cars and pumps, smiling and looking back several times to make sure Santa wasn’t in her imagination. She had spoken less than ten words and never mentioned why our meeting was so important to her.

The Meaning of Santa

Within twenty minutes at a gas station there were three widely different reactions to seeing Santa, or a close rendition of him, in a setting that didn’t involve a busy mall or finding him in your living room at 2:00am mumbling about being on schedule and covered in soot. Our fantasies, our loves, our fears, or the deep down emotions that are tied so closely to our lives can all be brought to the surface when we see a certain Christmas scene or beautifully decorated tree, taste or smell a special holiday dish that takes us back to Grandma’s kitchen, or hear a beautiful Christmas carol that we’ve loved since our childhood. We all see Christmas and the holidays through our own eyes. Those memories make it a different experience for us all. One Grandma was going to have her Christmas fun regardless of her cranky husband. One little girl, not knowing the true meaning of anything yet, will probably share her amazing Santa encounter with her own children when they are small. And, the lady who was so very emotional was most likely influenced by another Santa story when she was a child, or perhaps by her Daddy, who may have been one of Santa’s helpers. Whatever the memory was it was very important to her and is carried with her each holiday season. This is true for us all. Santa is not just an old guy in a funny red outfit. He is a special memory, happy or sad. He brings a special feeling for all of us each year. That is why it doesn’t really matter what h looks like. Jolly or thin, short beard or long, small or tall, bald headed or blessed with long and flowing white locks, all the Santas of the world and the happy men and women who help continue his wonderful legend are really all the same. What he really means to all of us is the memory, the feelings, and the happiness we all share at this very special time of year!

I wish you all a very wonderful and special Christmas and holiday season and hope that all the memories you carry with you through your life are unique and warm and as happy as they can be!

Merry Christmas until next year!
-Carlos Schott

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