They asked me to play Santa at a school for children with disabilities. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to do it. But the woman was adamant.
The social-studies teacher was supposed to play Saint Nick, but he came down with bronchitis.
I suspect foul play.
So, I wore the fake beard. They stuffed pillows in my shirt. I wore a red jacket that smelled like Santa’s Coat of Many Onions. I was meant to look like Kris Kringle, but I resembled an Oakridge Boy.
So this marks the beginning of old age. Once you play Santa, it’s over. You might as well start drinking prune juice and use the hydraulic lift-chair at the YMCA swimming pool.
The kids lined up.
“Be enthusiastic,” the teacher reminded me.
“HO, HO, HO,” was my enthusiastic phrase. “HAVE YOU BEEN A GOOD LITTLE BOY THIS YEAR?”
The first kid nearly tore my meniscus. He wore thick glasses and hearing aids. It was hard for him to speak. He made up for this with a snappy attitude.
“I KNOW you’re not Santa,” he said. “Santa is WAY handsomer than YOU.”
I ask how he’d like a nice box of red dirt under the tree this year.
The next child spoke in sign language. Her teacher translated.
“She wants a four-wheeler,” says the teacher. “And a horse.”
I’ll get right on it.
Another boy sits on my lap. His mother says he has motor-skill issues which happened after an accident—they don’t say anything more about this. He has dreadlocks and two black eyes.
He asks if I like cheese.
I remind him that Santa is a lover of all things high in cholesterol. This makes him happy.
“Good,” he said. “I’d rather have spray cheese INSTEAD of cookies and milk if it were me.”
I make a joke, but he doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t smile like the others. He’s sad, I can tell it. I pat his back and ask if he wants anything special for Christmas.
“Not really,” he goes on. “Maybe some candy or something.”
I’ll see what I can do, son.
There’s a girl with a service dog—a brown Lab. The dog is new. She’s holding the short leash. She wears pink sunglasses. They tell me she can see shapes, but nothing else.
“Can I touch your beard?” she says.
Knock yourself out.
“Oh, wow,” she says. “That’s pretty awesome.”
I ask what she wants for Christmas. “A guitar,” she answers. “I’m a good guitar player on my dad’s guitar, but it’s a piece of junk.”
Her dog sits still, watching me. He’s all business. No tail-wagging, no panting. She keeps both palms on my phony beard. She seems to like the feel.
“Can you do magic?” she asks.
“Darling, if I could, I’d use it all up on you.”
Her teacher lifts her from my knee. She walks away, and there’s a line of magnificent children. Too many to mention. They’re happy kids. Even though most have to try a little harder than I do at life.
When it’s all over, they form a line and leave the room. All of a sudden, I’m feeling less like Santa, and more like a man who has a lot to learn about life.
The kids yell in unison. “WE LOVE YOU SANTA!”
Santa didn’t mean to cry.