There is something to be said for growing up in small town America, where faces may change but the bonds formed in childhood never do.
I grew up with a sweet soul of a guy who grew up to be Santa Claus, among other titles, and he will forever remain in our hearts as that jolly good guy with a giving heart.
Randy Tallmadge was one grade ahead of me, and I’ll never forget my very first impression of him when I was in first grade. He was a big guy for his age, and strong as an ox.
“He could really hurt somebody if he wanted to!” his cousin Linda said to me.
Fortunately, Randy never wanted to. More often than not in those grade school years, he used his brute strength to referee the clashes of others, though he certainly had his share of opportunities to show off for us.
His always-tough brother Ron was in my class, and the two of them had the typical brotherly grade-school disagreements.
We’d sometimes stand back and marvel at the fact that they both emerged healthy and strong and unbroken. And determined. Always, always determined.
And so, when the news first came to us a few years ago that Randy learned that he was fighting cancer, we all just knew that he would find a way to beat it. If anybody could battle a foe with determination and success, it was Randy.
It seemed for a hopeful time that he had.
Looking back. When my daughter Caroline was sick, Randy dressed as Santa and came to our home two years in a row with gifts for her and her big brother, Cort.
Randy’s wife Melanie came along and snapped some pictures, and after they left, Cort said to me, “Wait a minute! What was Aaron and Bryan Tallmadge’s mom doing with Santa?”
Randy served the role of Santa to a T – a man with a giving heart, a happy soul, a great appetite for all that life encompassed.
Cort was lucky enough to spend time with Randy diving for golf balls in the golf course pond near their farm. It was an incredibly happy time, and Randy’s great sense of humor emblazoned memories that Cort will never forget.
Bringing home 5-gallon buckets of golf balls was a thrill, but proved secondary to the memories he has of that great day.
Randy had friends of all ages because he reached out to everyone. In recent years, though he was fighting his own health battles, he would always seek me out to ask, “How is our boy Cort doing?”
I would find myself fighting a lump in the throat as I answered, wishing to turn back the clock to a time when everyone was happy, healthy, ornery, whole.
Selfless love. Randy was known for his green thumb, and his abundant garden served not only his own family, but many of his friends reaped the rewards, as well. He volunteered numerous hours at the high school, helping continually with the track and field program.
Everything he gave, he gave with a happy heart.
If the loving support of a huge cast of friends could save someone, Randy would still be with us. When I stopped to visit Randy at his home just a few weeks ago, just days before his 46th birthday, he jokingly said, “You aren’t here to write a story, are you?”
I told him that he had plenty of stories to tell. The problem was, where would a person start?
One friend, in a moving tribute, said what many of us are feeling. “I guess God needed a Santa for Christmas in Heaven this year.”
Our small community has lost a vibrant, shining star, a fellow whose presence was larger than life.
We will never, ever be quite the same.