Monday, July 25, 2016 (Christmas in July!)
Dear Santa Claus,
I recently checked out your book The Red Suit Diaries (which you published under the name Ed Butchart) from the library as my fascination with the man with the beard has grown lately. You told stories of what it was like being in the red suit and I wanted to thank you for them. You made me tear up more than once. Your Christlike nature and your life of service has inspired me to put my pen to the paper and tell you my stories from the perspective of one of those many children who have sat on the lap of a man like yours.
My father was English and we moved to England before my elder sister was born. My earliest Christmas memory comes from around the age of two. My sister and I were playing upstairs in our flat when mother and father called down to us from the front door. "Come and see who's coming down the street!" Being much too busy to pause our game we asked who it was. "Look out the window!"
The window was much closer than downstairs and so we parted the curtains and looked. A man with a beard and red suit was coming down the street with an old rocking horse on his shoulders (probably picked up from a thrift store; it must have been at least 100 years old as people tend to keep things for a very long time in England). We ran downstairs and met Father Christmas for the first time. Mother told me years after it was Poppy, my father's father. I guess he did that for the church parties when all his kids were growing up and he now did it for all the cousins.
That began my fascination. My father and I would wear Santa hats to the park even when it wasn't Christmas season. In the car before we drove places I had to call out the names of the reindeer. Even though we named the car "the Batmobile" it was still my sleigh. I'd crack my imaginary whip in the air and away we'd go!
I'd stand up by our fireplace and wear the hat, my boots, and sling a bag over my shoulder and put on a little Christmas show. My father must have used up a good bit of string and a few napkins to make me beards. They were easy to make but also easy to accidentally tear, he was always willing to make me another.
We planned to move to America. My father unscrewed the legs of the rocking horse from the rocking tracks and fit it into a suitcase (it might have been a first for the people at customs to see that on their screen while scanning the baggage!). We moved and father soon found out he had cancer. As a fireman, that wasn't uncommon but he was in excellent shape. Because all the health and life insurance had been cancelled in England meaning to set some up in the U.S., he was forced to return to England where healthcare is free. In January of 1999, after not seeing him for several long months, my mother was left a widow at 25 with three children all under the age of 5.
I attended preschool daycare at Ricks College while my mother took classes. The children made fun of the way I talked and I felt very alone. One week near Christmas we sang Jingle Bells and then a bearded man entered the room. His suit was more purple than red, and his belt had sleigh bells on it. This wasn't like any Santa I had seen. He began to hand out stuffed animals from his pack. I wanted a Dalmatian puppy. My father had been a fireman and I loved the movie 101 Dalmatians. Before it was my turn I saw the man hand another boy a Dalmatian stuffed animal. I retreated farther to the back of the class crying and hid in the potted plants. The man was handing out stuffed animals to the two remaining kids when one of my teachers came and gently took me by the arm.
“What's wrong?” She asked as she put her arm around me. “There's nothing in that bag for me.” I had begun to realize how little my family really had and knew that we couldn't afford much. And even now I knew there wouldn't be anything I could have from the man with the beard. The sack was empty. “Well, let's go ask.”
My teacher led me up to the man and I cried harder. She spoke to him. Though he didn't touch me I calmed down enough to look up in his eyes. Kind eyes. Loving eyes. He reached into his sack and handed me the last stuffed animal he had. It was a Dalmatian puppy. I knew then that Santa Claus was real.
In the grocery store I'd ride in the shopping cart, calling out the names of my reindeer as I wore a Santa hat. I would ask those passing by if they had been good. Many looked surprised and didn't answer this five year old. Two old ladies came up once and said they indeed had been good. One of them asked for a pink corvette and I told her I'd see what I could do.
My younger sister and I were partners in crime. We decided one year that this was the year we'd catch Santa Claus. I tied a slipknot in a jump rope and put it by the door (we didn't have a chimney in the apartment) and waited. We woke up at midnight to a manly knock at the door. We didn't answer. Mother came out of her room and checked the peephole.
“You guys aren't gonna believe this.”
“Who is it?”
She opened the door to show us. He stood there. A very tall Santa, well rounded too. He came in and delivered presents to us and let us sit on his knee. I asked him if I could pull down his beard. He told me I could on one condition: he could pull my ear as hard as I pulled his beard. Deal. I grabbed his beard and before I could yank he about ripped my ear off! When he left we waited till mother had left the room then we quickly rushed outside to follow him to see what car he drove or if he really did have a sleigh. Nothing was stirring. Santa was beginning to be more real.
Just before my 3rd grade class was to leave for school pictures I was excused from class to go change. In my picture I'm wearing a red jogging sweater with fluff sewn onto the neck and down the front, a Santa hat, and white gloves (though they're not in the frame). My mother had made it. Though it wasn't finished (the fluff on the front wasn't sewn on all the way) I wore it because Santa was real.
At Wal Mart one year they had a Santa dummy that waved. He was about my height. I wished I had the $100 or so in order to buy him just for his suit. They had Santa suits for sale that year but I didn't have enough to get one.
Years passed. We moved around to different places in Idaho but we always loved Christmas. Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, Holiday Inn, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and The Santa Clause films (especially the first one) all became dear classics to me. Two failed marriages later we found ourselves in a town near to where we had first moved after my father passed. At the school they had a Christmas activity called Operation Merry Christmas. The school had a fundraiser and each grade tried to win by donating more against the others. It was all in fun. The money was then used to surprise 20 families or so with Christmas presents and dinners left in boxes on their front doors. Though we were better off by then we were always one of those families.
The church we attended never let us want for Christmas dinner. Not only would the clergymen deliver a box of goods, but many times other members of the congregation or even friends of the family would deliver food. Due to Operation Merry Christmas and the church delivering us frozen turkeys for the holidays, I left for religious volunteer work high school leaving four turkeys in the downstairs freezer. When I came home two years later there were three. As the son of a widow I can assure everyone that sometimes turkey isn't always what we lack. The visits and the help around the house was what made us thankful, no matter what part of the year it came in.
During my senior year I was yearbook photographer. I was quick to edit pictures and so the extra class time I'd have to be doing something. While running an errand once to the teacher's lounge I came across a garbage bag with an old woolly red suit in it! No one seemed to know who it belonged to so I hid it in one of the closets. On Thursdays I'd run to the lounge and put on the suit then run around the school (it was a small town and I knew which teachers wouldn't mind me running in for a split second to wish them a Merry Christmas!). I even made it into the student body officer pictures in my suit even though I wasn't a part of the student council.
I'm currently living in the city we first moved to when we arrived in Idaho. I married a lovely girl December 23 of last year. I currently work in the same line of employment that my elder sister and mother have worked in, looking after the Lord's special children who have grown up and live on their own but still need a friend there to help assist them. It constantly reminds me of the times Jesus talked about becoming as a little child. They are sweet. And as you put it, the Lord loves them just the same.
As a husband and as an artist my hands are always itching to find something to work on or fix. That old antique rocking horse lost half of his hoof, his tack is incomplete and what remains is broken, his mane is short in some places and long in others from young kids grooming him, his ears don't match his coat, and he never had a tail that matched his mane as far back as I can remember. While visiting my mother she told me about his hoof and I realized I might be able to fix that. The tracks were battered and the paint peeling. The original stain hadn't been put on their carefully either. I discussed colors with her and took him to my "adoptive" Grandpa's house where my wife and I would be house sitting.
I began to unscrew the base from the legs and froze. The last time this had been done was more than 17 years ago by my father. It was a special moment for me. After buying paint, stain, and gloss and using the tools in my grandpa's garage, I sanded and stained the base, I painted his nose and mouth and glossed it. I searched for wool string for the hair then sewed on a mane and a tail to match. The whole time I was thinking about England and Santa.
I checked out movies and a few Christmas books. I read one called The Immortal Nicholas which tells a fictional story about how St. Nicholas comes to know of Christ. Your book came in a few days later and I read it the same day I checked it out. It helped demonstrate to me even more ways of how I can take the teachings of our Savior and implement them while still celebrating Christmas commercially. I've always wanted to give back to those men in the red suit who have influenced me to give gifts to those I hardly knew. As I grew older I was a bit conflicted about which side to take, Santa's or the Savior's. But now I know there's a way to do both by spreading His love through the actions of a jolly old elf. You've connected them together, and now they'll never be separable and I'll be able to raise my children to understand that.
You've changed my life for the better.
Thank you, Santa Claus.
Stuart Deacon Jr.