SANTA AND ME
Editor’s Note: Each year I write a Christmas column. This year, however, I decided to ask an old friend to step in as a guest columnist. He actually wrote this several years ago as an introduction to my book “Some Assembly Required: A Daddy’s Christmas Book”. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!
I first met “Billy” Haltom over 60 years ago in December 1956. He was four, and I was...well, I stopped counting several Christmases ago.
I was working my day job in Goldsmith’s Department Store In Downtown Memphis, alongside my chief of staff, Rudolph, and several elf interns.
As you can imagine, December was then and remains a very busy month for me. In those days I worked from 9 to 5 at Goldsmith’s taking orders from little kids who climbed on my lap. And then at 5, Rudy and the elves and I would hop in the sleigh, fly to the North Pole, and then pull an all-nighter assembling the toys that had been ordered during the previous day at Goldsmith’s. And then in the early morning hours we would take the red-eye (actually the red-nose) back to Memphis for another day of visits from all those kiddies.
I gotta tell ya, it was a brutal schedule then and now, and it gets tougher every year. I’d like to retire, but I still got a lot of elves and reindeer to feed.
Well, where was I? Oh yeah, December 1956. I was sitting on my big red throne at Goldsmith’s, when a four-year old tyke walked up to me. He was accompanied by his momma whom I immediately recognized as the former Margaret Barron. I fondly remembered stopping by her house in Dublin, Georgia one Christmas Eve back during the Depression. Those were tough times, and old Santa didn’t make many toys back in those days, but I do recall bringing Miss Margaret a doll in 1934 that she really loved.
“Well hello, Miss Margaret,” I said, adding my trademark ho-ho-ho for good measure. “Long time no see! And who’s this young man you’ve brought with you?”
“This is my son Billy, “ replied Miss Margaret.
“Well hello, Billy!” I exclaimed. “Climb up here on old Santa’s lap and tell him what you want for Christmas!”
Billy looked a little hesitant, but finally, with Miss Margaret’s encouragement, he climbed up on my knee.
“So, Billy, have you been a good boy this year?” I asked.
Billy thought for a second and then replied, “I guess that depends on what your definition of ‘good’ is.”
I knew right then and there that Billy was going to grow up to be a lawyer.
I then asked Billy what he wanted me to bring him for Christmas. He quickly replied, “A Davy Crockett coonskin cap, a hula hoop, and a pogo stick.”
“We will see what we can do,” I responded. I learned long ago in this business not to make too many promises.
I then gave Billy a candy cane and said a fond farewell to him and Miss Margaret.
I then asked Rudolph to check both my “naughty” and “nice” lists to see if Billy’s name turned up. As it turned out, his name appeared on both lists.
For the next several years, I saw Billy at Goldsmith’s each December. During visits from 1957 to 1962 Billy requested at various times an electric football set, a BB gun, a Winky Dink kit, and a 1961 Ford Thunderbird. (I wasn’t able to deliver on that last request.)
I visited Billy’s house each Christmas Eve for a number of years and always appreciated the milk and cookies he left out for me. (Believe me, old Santa has never gone in for those low carb diets!)
But some time by the mid-1960s, Billy’s December visits with me came to end. I recall that in mid-December of 1965 I asked Rudolph if he had seen him.
“Our reports indicate he doesn’t believe in you anymore,” said Rudolph.
This wasn’t surprising. Most kids stop believing in me when they become sophisticated teenagers.
But over 20 years later, on a December day in 1987, Billy and I were reunited. It wasn’t at Goldsmith’s in downtown Memphis. It was at a shopping mall in suburban East Memphis. (By the way, for the record, I hate suburban shopping malls with their fake North Poles. But alas, there is no more Goldsmith’s in downtown Memphis, so old Santa has been sent packing to the burbs.)
When Billy and I were reunited at the mall, he brought with him a little fellow who reminded me of the 1956 version of Billy.
“Santa, this is my son, Will,” said Billy.
Little Will was barely a year old and could hardly speak, so when Will was placed on my lap, Billy the Daddy did the talking for him. “He’d like a train set, Santa,” said Billy.
“He would like a train set?” I asked incredulously.
“Well we both would,” said Billy. I then recalled that Billy Haltom always loved train sets.
Since that time Billy and I have been seeing each other each December. In fact, he keeps bringing back more kids every year. He is now a regular Santa customer, and I’m pleased to do business with him.
Not long ago Rudolph and I were enjoying a round of golf at my winter home at the South Pole. I was about to tee off when Rudolph said, “Hey, Santa! Have you heard that Billy Haltom has written a book?”
“No,” I replied. “What’s it about?”
“Christmas,” responded Rudolph.
“Whoa! Ain’t he squeezing in on my territory?” I asked.
Shortly thereafter I got a copy of the book, and while Billy Haltom is no Charles Dickens, I found it quite enjoyable. In fact, when I am taking orders at the mall, I am going to ask every little kid I meet whether they would like Santa to bring their daddy a copy of Billy’s wonderful book.
It’s perfect stocking stuffer size, and while batteries are not included, no assembly is required.
Merry Christmas, everybody! Now if you will excuse me, I’ve got a lot of work to do!
The North Pole