The Accidental Santa
By Carlos Schott
We traveled to my daughter’s home this weekend to spend some pre-Christmas time with her and her husband and our two grandsons, baking cookies and wrapping gifts and watching Dora the Explorer by the fireside.
On Saturday afternoon their family had an appointment with a photographer to take pictures for their annual Christmas card. The night before, after dinner, Mrs. Clau……… I mean, Ava, had presented me with an early Christmas gift which she insisted I open as it “….may come in handy before Christmas morning!”. It was a beautiful new suit for Santa! It is one of the nicest and most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received!
The wonderful suit I had used for years on Christmas Eve was full of coal dust and a bit tattered and torn (from that darn chimney in Chula Vista last year with the rusty nail sticking out of the mortar). It was a gift many years ago from Storage West’s own Earl Derschan. As my daughter and her family were rushing out the door, late for the photo session, they shouted out, “Why don’t you follow us over there? You can help with the kids. It’ll be fun!” Ava then chimed in, “Hey, take your suit with you! That would make a good Christmas picture! Everyone yelled , “Yaaaaaaaaaaa!” so I grabbed the big box with the new red fuzzy suit in it from under the tree and headed for the door.
I logically thought I could put it on in the changing room of the photo studio. That was not a logical thought, however. Our daughter informed me that the photos were being taken outside in a local park and she thought, perhaps the children would not care to see Santa undressing behind a nearby tree or, even worse, Santa in his undershorts in the bushes. So I put on the suit as quickly as I could and jumped in the Jeep to follow behind! Considering what was to come it may have been wise to take along a change of clothing.
We made the appointment only a few minutes late and the pictures seemed a great success. Other families in the park even asked to “borrow” Santa for pictures of their own! We were on our way back when I received a phone call from our daughter telling me they were going to stop by the Ontario Mall to let the boys ride a special Christmas Choo Choo Train that was there for the Holidays. She said they would see me at home. I replied, “That sounds fun, why don’t I just follow you there? I have my camera in the car. I’ll take pictures!”
Well, as I pulled up to a parking space at our destination I glanced to my left at the car next to me only to see two little kids jumping up and down in the backseat of the neighboring car and waving to me. That’s when I realized I was still looking quite a bit like Santa and I suddenly knew I had no other clothes to change into for my trip to the mall! But, I wasn’t about to miss our little grandsons on the train!
I called our daughter and explained the predicament but she said, “Oh come on Dad, it’ll be quick!” So I tightened my Santa belt, took a deep breath, let out a quiet “Ho, Ho, Ho” under my beard and got out of the car.
I had walked a few hundred feet with a wave and a “Ho Ho” to the honking cars when I discovered I didn’t really know where I was headed. I spied an empty bench and gratefully sat down to dial my son-in-law’s number and ask him which way to walk. They were patiently waiting for me to take the train trip with them.
Trying to manipulate a small cell phone with big Santa gloves on is not the easiest thing to do. A minute or so passed while I was fiddling with the phone. I finally got the number to ring and as I relaxed and looked up from my phone, holding it to my ear, I experienced quite the shock. It made me let out a real “Ho, Ho, Ho!” There, about ten feet away, standing in a perfectly ordered line, were five various moms and dads and couples, with about seven or eight kids in hand, anxiously waiting to see “Santa”! It was definitely one of the most fun and surprising moments of my life!
I had no choice but to outstretch my arms to the first little girl, whose name was Katie, and invite her over to sit on the bench with me! It was wonderful! By the time I got through the first set of kids there were five more in line, then ten more, then a dozen more! That mall really could use a Santa!
My phone rang several times with the question, “Where are you? Are you still lost?” I had to tell the children around me it was Mrs. Claus calling, asking me about the Christmas cookies she was home baking and wondering how many more she should bake.
Our son-in-law finally conducted his own search party and found me, took me by the hand like a big elf, and led me away to the train. The engineer, of course, had to have his picture taken with Santa, before he would leave the station. When we got off the train we ducked into a nearby candy shop to get some hot cocoa and a bit of privacy but it was not to be.
Two moms with babes in strollers followed us in for pictures and then the shop employees had to come from behind the counter for pictures! They were nice enough, however, to offer me a complimentary cup of hot chocolate and a peanut butter cup.
I left the shop and it all began again! I was out there for over two hours promising wishes and posing for pictures with wiggly and wide-eyed little kids!
One of my favorite moments was when a little boy about eight sat down next to me at his mother’s prodding and whispered in my ear as I asked what he would like. He, very quietly told me, “Slippers”. I asked him if he wanted one or two. He didn’t quite get Santa’s humor so I moved on and told him that in one hundred and seventy two years I had never had a little boy ask me for slippers! Bicycles and baseball bats, trucks and trains, but never slippers! With a wink to his mom, I let him know that the slippers would be under his tree Christmas morning and asked if there was anything else he wanted. He shyly answered as he was getting up, “Well, maybe an I-Pad”. From simple slippers to high–tech in a few moments! I had to laugh!
My second best moment was when a father of two little girls came up close and stared at me with the question, “Is that really real?” He then proceeded to take the liberty of tugging on my beard before he hurried away, quite satisfied. His curious tug made me wince but was worth the fun!
As I was eventually dragged away by our family I experienced one last fun moment. I was walking through the parking lot alone and was approached from behind by mall security, flashing red lights and all. As all sorts of scenes raced through my Santa-hatted head and visions of jail time for being an imposter raced in front of me I performed my best “Ho, Ho”, only to happily find that the two gruff looking men in the patrol car only wanted to tell me what they would like in their stockings, thank me for an evening’s work well done, and wish me a Merry Christmas! I do think they thought I was a certified mall employee.
It was truly a “Merry Christmas at the mall and for all, a good night!