Santa’s Rewards

By Guest Contributor October 21, 2016 10:38
Mike McReynolds and wife Roberta portray Santa and Mrs. Claus

Mike McReynolds and wife Roberta portray Santa and Mrs. Claus

Santa’s Rewards

By Mike McReynolds

I began playing Santa Claus about 1996. At first, I was wearing a red flannel shirt and Santa cap as I operated the steam engine at Railtown State Park. It was a hit. Every time I looked up there was a camera pointed in my direction. OK, maybe it was the steam engine but folks seemed to enjoy this whimsical glimpse of the holiday spirit. I also wore bunny ears on my engineer’s cap at Easter time, but that’s another story. Soon I was asked to be Santa on the train and hand out candy canes and listen to Christmas wish lists. Roberta agreed to be Santa’s helper and we were off on a magical journey as the timeless icons of Christmas.

Our first year on the train we encountered a young girl who bashfully wanted nothing to do with Santa. After walking through the train and visiting with the other children, we came back to her coach and took an empty seat nearby. Soon she walked over to us, climbed into my lap, gave me a big hug and started talking. She spent the rest of the trip there. Each following year held new treasured memories. On one special trip, there was an older gentleman sitting by himself. He appeared unkempt with worn, rumpled clothing and a weathered face with a long beard. We would learn later he was a local hermit whose friend had brought him down that day to ride. As we passed, Roberta handed him a candy cane. He looked at it intently and nodded to her. As we came back through the train, I stopped and held out my hand, wishing him a merry Christmas. He wouldn’t let go of the candy cane in his right hand so shook my hand with his left. He never said a word just nodded and smiled as his eyes glistened with emotion. It’s amazing how powerful the smallest act of kindness can be. On that same trip, I encountered a father and his two children. They were obviously of Indian origin so I greeted them in Punjabi. The father grinned broadly as he told his daughters in English, “You see, Santa knows all languages.” As I left, I thanked him again in Punjabi. He clapped his hands in delight, then raised them in a sign of blessing. We felt blessed being given the chance to touch these special lives.

On a trip aboard a local “Polar Express” I spotted a friend I worked with on a rail safety program sitting with his wife and young girls. As I got to their table I said, “Well if it isn’t little Jimmy. I remember when you were a little boy. I see you still like trains.” The girls’ mouths dropped open and Jim later said they were convinced they had met the real Santa.

After a few years, Roberta decided she should become Mrs. Claus instead of a 450-year-old elf. She is wonderful at it. Children will often approach her when they are too shy to talk to Santa and question her about life at the North Pole. Being Mr. and Mrs. Claus carries a great responsibility. We become the embodiment of childhood’s most magical fantasy and to betray the trust and belief in those little faces would be unthinkable. Promises are never made that could become disappointments on Christmas morning.

As the season approaches, Bert and I start getting our stories and answers to questions ready so there is no contradiction if questioned separately. And believe me, the children are smart enough to do that. One common inquiry is, “Why are we in a car instead a sleigh?” We tell them the reindeer do not like all the traffic since we usually travel late at night when everyone is asleep, so they are safe in a nice farmers’ barn and he has lent us his car. We have also invented alternate reindeer such as Patches and Sneakers, who fill in if one of the regulars throws a shoe.

As the years have turned my whiskers snowy white, the Santa persona seems to be visible all year long. Young children tug on parents’ sleeves as they pass, wide eyed and walking backward watching this apparition in the department store. People in cars at stoplights honk and wave smiling at this familiar image in the car next to them. Some have even poked cameras out the window to record the event for family and friends. Once as I entered a medical building a woman rushed over and exclaimed as she touched my beard, “It is you! When I saw you just now, my heart soared.” How can you not be touched by reactions like that? Last Christmas season as Roberta and I walked through the mall, we were suddenly surrounded by a group of teenage boys. They were laughing and darting around us as we walked. One had a cell phone in hand and it soon became obvious one of them was trying to get in a picture with me. I stopped and asked if they wanted a photo. Immediately one of them ran over and put his arm around my shoulder. His friend snapped the photo and they were off laughing and waving goodbye.

At the grocery store now, the clerk tells other shoppers in line, “I bet you didn’t know Santa shops here.” Even one of my grandsons asked his mother, “Mom, is Grandpa Santa?” When asked why he might think that, the reply was, “Well he’s got a white beard, he’s always happy and he’s fat.” Yes Zach, I am Santa or at least a lot of people see him when I pass by. I wish everyone had a chance to be a magical hero to a child. It is exhilarating and humbling at the same time. And it is good for the soul. As you believe, so can you be!

 

By Guest Contributor October 21, 2016 10:38
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