It was 1968, my 3rd year of donning the Red Suit for the Walnut Creek Jaycees. For the last three years we had been holding a raffle at our Annual Christmas Party for a visit by Santa on Christmas Eve.
Beginning at around 10 PM during the night, I would visit the homes of 10 raffle winners who would wake their children and sneak a peak of the Jolly Old Man placing presents under the tree, or allow the children to sit and have cookies with Santa while the parents would take pictures before going back to bed.
On one special occasion it was Jim Campbell, one of my best friends, who won the raffle for his family, two boys, one 7 the other 9, the younger still a believer. The other absolutely sure Santa was dad.
I showed up, if my memory serves, about 1 AM, Jim had cleaned out the fireplace and suggested that I scrunch in, (not easy for my jolly size), and back out when he tapped the wall in the hallway indicating that they were just around the corner.
Hearing the tap I slowly backed out onto the edge of the raised hearth, searched for a place to land my foot on the floor and stood up. Still not facing the room which was dimly lit, I dusted off my suit and pulled the bag Jim had placed in the fireplace onto the edge of the hearth and turned around to survey the surroundings. The first thing was to check out the tree. Then I pulled the bag next to a chair and side table arranged with cookies and milk and sat down to partake in the sweet repast. Then came another tap on the wall indicating they were returning to bed. I got up, shuffled around, pulled out a few presents from the bag and placed them under the tree. With Jim’s prearranged signal I met him at the front door afterwards.
Now here is the great part. Jim told me he woke the boys and told them someone was in the front room. They jumped out of bed and Jim had to contain them or they just would have run into the room. He reminded them that they were not to really see Santa, so they were to be very quiet and just take a peek. Creeping down the hall to where the living room was, they stopped right before entering. As Jim and the boys stood in the shadow of the hall watching Santa come out of the fireplace, he held them close to him, one hand resting on the shoulder of each boy. As I turned into the room Jim said the older boy’s heart leapt from his chest with such force he felt the beat in the palm of his hand, and continued to beat with excitement until they turned to go back to bed. The younger boy was excited but pretty calm, considering he expected Santa would be there.
The next morning after opening presents and settling down for breakfast and conversation of events, the boys didn’t have a word to say about Santa’s visit, but the older boy the next Christmas had nothing to say derogatory about Santa, as a matter of fact he never visited the question of Santa not being real again.
On another visit by Santa, this time to the Hugh Corum family there was a completely different response to Santa’s visit.
Hugh and his Wife Tish had 4 children ranging in age from 6 months to 8 years, the older children, Hugh Jr, Rose, and Sandra, 8, 7 and 3 respective, all believed in Santa.
Santa showed up about 1 AM, but this time rather then the quiet observation of Santa from a hiding place, Santa was invited to sit on the sofa with the entire family all sitting or standing around him. There was Mom and Dad, both Hugh’s and Tish’s parents, a great grandmother, a couple of aunts and uncles and a neighbor or two. The Corum’s loved having family around. After getting settled Hugh went into the bedrooms to wake the kids, not too spy on Santa but join the gathering. And did they join! About 15 seconds after leaving the room I heard shrieks of joy and shouts of Santa! Santa! Each word getting louder and louder! Then as if a dam broke I was inundated with yells and cheers and kisses and laughter and hugs, it went on for what seemed forever, but finally Tish started calming them down and explaining Santa had other little boys and girls to see tonight, so they should give me a hug and kiss and get back in bed so Santa could unload his sleigh and finish his rounds. Surprise! Behold! They each bid me goodnight and never taking their eyes off me, trotted back to bed.
For the next three years I somehow ended up at the Corum’s and the Jaycees ended up with more presents for less fortunate kids. And I, of course, will carry these memories with me forever.
Both Jim Campbell and Hugh Corum passed well before any of us expected. I am a better Santa for their friendship, generosity and love.