The picture was a square; a thin white border wrapped it on the sides and top, but a big white band was at the bottom and you could write on it. For $5 my Mum could get one of these pictures of my younger brother “Handsome,” sister “Sweetie” and I with the Jolly Old Elf in the Eatons Centre.
Mum always insisted that Santa Claus knew the three of us by name. He also knew if I didn’t eat all my peas, if Sweetie didn’t do her chores or if Handsome didn’t brush his teeth before bedtime. I doubted that for years, because every time I met the old man he kept calling me “My boy.”
It was then I got thinking that Santa Claus was getting too old because he kept mistaking my brother and me for his own children, but that quickly changed when I took my three sons to see the Old Man at the Cataraqui Mall in 1998.
“Junior” was almost 7years old; the “Captain” was 4 and a half and the “Chef” was a year and a half. It was their first time to see Santa in person; so – yep, they were a little excited … ADHD excited.
As soon as we arrived, Junior was upset because he couldn’t go first — his attempts failed to bribe the nice young female elves (who I think were high school students) — when a booming voice bellowed, “Junior!” followed by heart-warming laughter.
My oldest one froze like a deer during hunting season, and then slowly peeked around the elf-girls. Santa was sitting on his big velvet chair, still laughing with his arms outstretched.
“Junior!” he called out again. “How are you, my boy?”
Well, that did it!
My boy was gone like a shot, scrambling across the carpet, shucking his coat, kicking off his boots and climbing up into Santa’s lap, before wrapping his arms around him like he normally strangled his teddy bear at home. And his smile? It lit up the food court in the Mall.
All seemed fine as Junior had his five minutes with his cheery-eyed buddy, when an impatient Captain started to cry.
“He didn’t call me, Daddy,” he whimpered pulling my coat sleeve, with tears streaming from both eyes, “Santa don’t know me.”
Before I could answer, that now-familiar voice boomed again from the big red chair.
“Captain, don’t you want to come see me? I still have an empty knee.” Santa tapped his left knee with a red-and-white striped mitten.
Needless to say, Captain’s tears stopped instantly and I was left standing with two beautiful young elf-girls and one son.
“You are so cute,” they said singsongy, offering their arms out to Chef. With a big smile, he leaned towards the closest elf and fell into her outstretched arms.
“Yes, you are,” the other one purred at him, as he wrapped himself around her sister’s neck. “You must be teething.”
[Correction: no sons.].
It was then a much older female elf – or was she Mrs. Claus? – came to me asking if I wanted a picture of all three boys “together with Mister Claus.”
I think I must have nodded to her, as she then took Chef and proceeded to her preoccupied husband.
Did you know: history recycles? Actually, it repeats itself like a bad T.V. sit-com (situation comedy), and once again I had a supporting role to an upstaging screamer. Last time, it was Sweetie, but this time, it was Chef.
It always happens, you know — ask any first time parent. When babies are quiet, adults can’t wait to take them off your hands, but the moment the Distress Call of the Wild is activated, the adults panic like they triggered an overly sensitive car alarm!
But, Santa Claus was still smiling as I took my youngest from him. “This is what happens when they don’t visit me enough,” he said. I apologized and promised him a cup of hot cocoa.
His eyes lit up at the offer. “I’d really enjoy a coffee, triple cream, no sugar, please, Rabbit,” as he nodded his head to his left at the coffee shop located just 30feet from where we were. “These two can stay with me. Go on,” he chuckled, “It’s not like I’m busy.” It was almost closing time on a Sunday – 6pm.
In a few minutes, I came back to see my oldest two hugging Santa and Mrs. Claus “good-bye.”
As Captain got help from the elves putting his coat and boots back on, I offered Santa his steaming coffee cup.
“Sorry about the test of our Emergency Broadcast System,” I said again, pointing at the now sleeping son in my arms.
The Jolly Old Elf smiled, “I get that a lot.” He removed the lid from his cup, stirred a candy cane in it, hooked it to the rim and took a sip.
“He’s a lot like your sister, Sweetie, in that way. He’s got the volume, but she had pitch! How are she and her little girl doing, by the way? I don’t see them – or your brother, Handsome – that much, anymore.”
It was my turn to get wide-eyed.
Santa laughed loud — his trademark laugh. “You need some peppermint. Mrs. Claus has some candy cane wreaths in her apron; tell her, I sent you for some.”
Candy cane wreaths? How?
I thought to myself, I haven’t had those for almost thirty years! I remembered Mum put them on the Christmas tree, and that I couldn’t find them anywhere since I left home!
“Every now and again, the elves get bored of making candy canes,” Mrs. Claus answered as though reading my thoughts. She tucked a handful of the sweet four-inch circles in my coat pocket and gave me a one-armed hug and a peck on the cheek.
“Happy Christmas, Dearie,” she whispered.