Now that Christmas is “so last week” I can let you all in on a little secret. I am related to Santa Claus.
If I’m on top of things (and there is a good chance I’m not) there is a photograph attached to the online version of this column that shows my impossibly young and lovely mother holding 2-year-old me, circa 1970, visiting with the real and 100 percent authentic and true Santa at Havre’s Department Store in Chagrin Falls.
Department store Santa
Havre’s, it should be noted, was the iconic, old-fashioned, small-town department store of black and white Christmas movies and Norman Rockwell fame.
I grew up with people who hail from that place in time and if you don’t, I’m sorry for you, because it was pretty much awesome almost all of the time, being a Midwestern child in the 1970s in this place.
On this date, however, my toddler self is definitely skeptical of the jolly old soul in front of me.
I have already perfected my not-so-poker face “what the heck man” expression as I clutch my candy cane (even then I was a pretty devoted follower of candy and unabashed servant to my sweet tooth — however few teeth I may have had).
What I did not know on that particular day was that my wonderful great Uncle Mike was the Havre’s Santa. In fact, he was “The” Santa for legions of Clevelanders and locals who trekked to that outlying suburb.
He was so obviously the one and only authentic Santa that the venerable pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper even offered feature coverage. We treasure that to this day.
I cracked the fact that I was personally related to Santa Claus when I was about 4 years old and realized that Santa and uncle Mike had the same liver spots on the back of their hands.
I was always aware of the little details, even as a child.
As my mother writes, “I remember when you were about 4, you sat on Uncle Mike’s lap in Gram Lewis’s kitchen and you were touching the back of his hand, and very softly you said ‘Santa Claus has these same brown spots on his hands.’ We were all stunned and speechless. Out of the mouths of babes indeed.”
Far from ruining the magic, I vowed to keep the secret of my personal knowledge of Santa’s true identity so as not to ruin it for my little friends.
I may, however, have name dropped a little, “Santa and I are tight.”
This has prompted friends, upon hearing this story, to ask how I felt when I found out Santa wasn’t “real.”
Wasn’t real? What in the world do they mean? Santa is generous and caring and being mindful of being decent to one another.
My uncle Mike, may he rest in peace, was all those things and more. He was the kindest and most decent, gentle soul I could ever imagine knowing.
He was a champion of children and animals and beloved by all who knew him. He worked hard every day both at home and away.
He was thrifty and handy and despite all that always had time for a long-winded tale from a babbling child.
He loved crossword puzzles and the word games in the daily newspaper. Yet he would break concentration to sketch out cartoon scenes in the margins if a child asked him to.
He cut out the Garfield comic strip from the newspaper seven days a week for me for years because I enjoyed it so much as a teenager. I don’t think I realized that commitment until I typed that out just now.
If that kind of attention to detail isn’t the epitome of Santa’s spirit I don’t know what is?
Santa is real
Anyone who will sit for days if not weeks at a time over decades to listen to children’s breathless wishes — and more than a few tears — has more than epitomized to me that Santa is very much “real.”
Accordingly, as I look back on decades of Christmases, I know that I was related to Santa Claus.
I also know that if you keep that spirit of kindness, generosity, attention to detail, and doing unto others, you may bring the “realness” of Santa Claus to life year-round too.