This week, my son-in-law out in Washington is playing Santa Claus for the kids there (his grandchildren, my great grandchildren). They're still very little, so we'll see how that goes.
But hearing about this made me think of another Christmas many years ago when my dad decided to dress up as Santa at our house. That one, I can report, definitely did not work out so hot.
It was Christmas eve (when we've always opened presents in my family). I was about 12, my two little sisters, Lorie and Pam (the only ones born at that point) were like 3 and 2. We had it set up so that Dad would slip out of the living room at a certain point and go upstairs and dress up in his Santa get-up. It wasn't a full-fledged, bona fide suit, mind you; I don't know if there wasn't any available or the folks just couldn't afford one back then. Anyway, he dressed in a pair of bright red long underwear, a pair of high-topped rubber boots, and a Santa mask, hat attached.
My recollection of said mask, even after all these years, was that it was a pretty sorry creation. The accompanying picture doesn't begin to match it. Like I said, money was kinda tight back then so I suspect it was the best my folks could afford.
Mom and I entertained the little girls while Dad was getting ready. The upstairs was accessed by a closed stairway with a door at the bottom. The deal was, Dad (as Santa) would come down and knock on the door. Then we'd go through the whole “Who could that be?” bit and send one of the girls (Lorie, I think, because she was the oldest) to open the door and see. At which point, Dad/Santa would step out saying “Ho-ho-ho” … Which was exactly how it went.
At that point, however, the master plan careened off the rails. One look at this big stranger in red underwear wearing a ghastly mask and my two sisters let out screams that may still be echoing somewhere yet today. They bolted into the arms of me and my mom, howling and hiding their faces like it was the Frankenstein monster coming after them. Dad, in the meantime, was frantically trying to get shed of his bag of presents and pull off that stupid mask, hollering, “It's Daddy, honeys … Don't be afraid … It's Daddy!” But the howls of the little ones kept drowning him out for several chaotic minutes.
Finally, the mask was removed and hidden away, the kids could see it was Dad, and everything calmed down. There were still presents to open and that was the ultimate healing balm that saved the evening and helped turn everything into a Merry Christmas.
Now ... as Mr. Paul Harvey used to like to say … Here's THE REST of the story:
Remember me --- the innocent little 12-year-old “helper” to the foregoing? Not surprisingly, I was often called upon to babysit my little sisters in those days. Now I loved them very much but, being on the brink of my teen years and beginning to feel my oats a bit, craving to be “cool” and having interests of my own to pursue, it should also not come as a surprise that babysitting didn't exactly thrill me a whole lot. Plus, truth be told, my sweet little sisters could be stinkers and didn't always mind me like I thought they should.
Re-enter the dreaded Santa Claus mask which, like the aforementioned Frankenstein monster, was not so easily destroyed. I knew where it had been stashed. And, I'm not proud to say, pukey little 12-year-old me wasn't above resurrecting it and putting it to use …
I don't think I ever resorted to actually putting it on. But one one day when the little darlings were acting up, I yanked the mask out from hiding and waved it at them, threatening to put it on. That was enough. They snapped to attention and jumped to Best Behavior like soldiers in basic training. In the weeks and months that followed, all I had to do was say the words “I'll get that Santa Claus mask” and I suddenly had two golden children.
Eventually, though, I overplayed my hand and the effectiveness of the threats wore off. Plus, as the girls got older, they simply no longer found the mask so scary. But, for a while there, whenever I was babysitting I had me some mighty well behaved little girls.
Now I'm not recommending this --- or any form of it --- as an effective form of controlling your kids. In hindsight it was pretty mean and I probably deserved to have had somebody scare the crap out of me for payback. But, come on, you gotta admit that using a Santa mask as a non-violent tool to control a couple of sometimes-brats was quasi-clever and has a kind of humorous side to it, too. Don't it? The saving grace, I hope, is that my sisters still did (and do) love me, and for any nasty trick I ever played on them there were also many hours of love and affection showered on them (and the rest of my siblings as they came along) by me.
You forgive me, Lorie and Pam … don't you?