Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Santa That Never Was

When he invited me to dance I had no idea that this giant of a man would be in my life until this past year when he died an early death because he knew what the diagnosis of Alzheimer Disease would bring. For 25 years he would float in and out of my life. We were ardent lovers for 10 years, I wore his engagement ring for 5 years, and we were the best of friends in any and other years. No matter where he was or what he was doing there was one constant that never changed ... he always knocked on my door to say, “I came to spend Christmas with you.”

He was 6’8” and weighed about 310 lbs. He was too large for life. Finding a perfect fit in any dimension was one of the struggles of his existence. He was raised by deaf parents ... an abusive father, and a mother that had been hidden by her family because her deafness was a humiliation. He was deaf in one ear himself, so he tended to tilt his head in the direction of the person that was speaking. He was at once complex but simple, charming but aloof, charismatic but standoffish. His name was Jim and my Christmas memories are full of his booming laughter and sentimental heart.

Buying clothes was both difficult and expensive for him. He loved tee shirts with a pocket and he loved vibrant color. I always hosted the family Christmas party at my house on Christmas Eve. It was then that we would open the gifts that we had chosen for one another. One year Jim opened a gift from my son. It was a huge tee shirt, just the right size! It was orange and it had the required pocket. Jim was thrilled. He instantly put it on and modeled it for the family. He stood in the middle of the room and proudly expanded his immense chest and arms to show how well it fit. He must have thanked my son a dozen times. He put his hand in the pocket to demonstrate to all of us the greatness of tee shirt pockets, and a look of confusion came across his face as he pulled out a slip of paper that had his handwriting on it. My son had given him his own tee shirt, one he had worn a dozen times. When he realized what my son had done he laughed so hard the roof almost came down. He and my son did that sort of thing to one another.

One of my favorite Christmas memories of Jim was when he decided to go to Santa Clause College. He was trying to find something to do to fill the down time of a layoff when he read an article in the newspaper about the need for men to play Santa for the Christmas Season. He decided to apply.

He was accepted with no reservations. He had beautiful gray hair and the powers of the Santa Claus College envisioned being able to work his own hair into the costume.

I remember his coming to tell me what he had learned during his training and the two of us would laugh over our coffee, as he would repeat what he had been taught. He was having trouble with his HO! HO! HO’s. The teacher said that he wasn’t putting the proper holiday spirit into the words. We would laugh until we were almost sick as he HO, HO, HO’d all over the house. He wasn’t quite sure what the proper spirit of a Christmas HO! was, but he worked like hell trying to find the inspiration.

The local paper did a full page layout of the goings on at the Christmas College and there he was on page 2 standing at the back of the room, heads taller then all of the other potential Santa’s. There was even a picture of him by himself trying on different sized Santa hats. He had a very large head and the average Santa hat looked like a beanie on Mt. Rushmore. I never did figure out if the photographer was showing the intensity of the Santa learning or if he just happened on a scene he found hilarious.

Once I asked him if anyone at the Santa College questioned his size. “Was anyone worried that a Santa that looked as big as the giant on the Jolly Green Giant commercials might frighten some children?” He said that it had never been mentioned. When they talked about his appearance it was always about his beautiful gray hair.

Then the last day of learning was completed. He was given a certificate with gold lettering that said he was an officially trained Santa Clause. He was ready to be sent out to listen to children tell him what they most desired. There was just one minor problem. They searched everywhere, but there wasn’t a Santa Clause suit anywhere in the civilized world that would fit a Santa that came in giant size.

Jim never got paid for all the knowledge that he had gained in Santa Clause College, but he had lived with the out-sized problem his whole life and he found the humor in the situation. When Christmas Eve arrived and the guests started coming through my front door he greeted them with his beautiful gray hair and such a resounding, certified authentic HO! HO! HO! that everyone knew that they were beholding a true Santa and the laughter could be all over the neighborhood.

I love that memory of the Santa Clause that never was. It epitomizes my feelings about Jim, a man that was so large he never fully fit anywhere, but he sure as hell never stopped trying.

Sleep well my friend. I will miss your knock on my door this Christmas.

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