Beardless and in the shape of a barrel, Andy –short for Andrew- , my neighbor, needs only Santa’s costume and some white hair covering his face to look like Santa Claus and, around this time of the year, he does just that. Andy acquired a part time job on weekends with Christmas tree farm years ago to play Santa Claus –an added attraction to the farm to lure customers -children, parents and all to cut and pack their Christmas trees. He treats the kids well. He talks their talk and hands them candies. And, to me, he is the good neighbor one would wish for.
Andy was struck with a severe cold this past Sunday; he had a running nose, cough and red eyes. Although such illness never stopped the barrel from performing any kind of work, but it did stop him from passing it on to the children -flu vaccine shortage was an added concern. On a very short notice, he called me up and asked me to be Santa Clause and fill-in for him for the day… Me? You either skipped your medication this morning or you must be kidding, I am the last one for this job…I answered. …You’ll do just fine… He tells me. ….Oh, no, any thing but that…you better get going on finding someone else…I replied. Well, it’s the Mrs.’ idea, not mine…. Here she is…she wants to talk to you …Needless to say, I couldn’t refuse. I painfully accepted and was on my way.
After securing couple of pillows around me I got into the outfit, he put the final touches on my hair, beard and mustache, placed the eyeglasses, he did all this while giving me a crash course on what to do and what to say. He phoned Mr. Philips -the tree-farm owner- and told him the plan, handed me the candy sack and there I went.
A handful of cars were in the parking lot; a sign of relief, but soon after, customers started to trickle in. Two little children with their parents were my first visitors. Their father placed them on my lap while the mother took some pictures. This kind of activity went on smoothly throughout the morning and into early afternoon.
Close to closing time, a mother and child approached Santa’s quarters. The boy looked about seven, maybe eight years old and confidently walked towards me. I signaled offering him my lap where he made himself comfortable. His mother did the norm; taking photos and giving him his space to talk to me.
“Ho..Ho..Ho, hello son…were you good to mama?” I asked.
Turning his face toward his mother, making sure she hears him and said: “yes, I have” … his mother nodded in agreement..
“Santa is going to be nice to you this Christmas, son”…I commented.
The young boy turned toward my ear, got closer as though he had something of importance to say to me and didn’t want his mother to hear....”All I want this Christmas is for my mother to lose weight” he whispers …….I heard what the young boy said clearly but was not sure he knew what he just said..….”Santa is getting old son, say that again, please”…I replied…..He did just that…The boy wishes his mother to lose weight…”your mother is beautiful, she looks fine” I answered…he turns to my ear again and said…”Santa, she wants to lose weight. She says that every morning and gets upset about it..… I just want to see her happy, Please” …Andy, ya-ber-meal, where are you? You never told me to expect hurdles like this… and with children…. Unprepared for this predicament, now what do I do?!….
Well, this unexpected turn in my one day of help, that I will never offer again, left me speechless and sent me searching for an answer to give to this little kid; more importantly I was in awe…-here is a little boy willing to give-up the annual highlight of his childhood, yes willing, and with enthusiasm, to sacrifice what all children look forward to receive for Christmas, toys, gifts and more …….set me back thinking of my own mother and of what I can do and give-up to bring joy and happiness to her…in the mist of digging for an answer, I found myself mumbling in silence what was going-on in my head:
“Son, let me tell you about my mama….
My mama looks as beautiful as yours and is about the same size. But, her cloths are ripped, worn out and barely cover her…with her lack of shoes, she walks bare feet…she lives in a shack where she often gets wet when it rains… She has lots of money but can’t spend it…food for her is very scarce…. cats, fat and all are nibbling on what she got… My mother is constantly sick with little or no medical care…she is muzzled, can’t talk to tell her story…The man she is with is an abuser…while spending her money, he denies her her basic needs…his love, if he has any is clearly elsewhere......... she has lots of sons and daughters but not like you son, very few care…she has beautiful name and I love her dearly – her name is Libya.”
Thoughts running in my skull almost got out to being audible when I suddenly realized the kid is waiting for an answer…
I scrambled for few words to get myself out of this predicament…
I looked at his big eyes and asked: “son, do you love your mama?”…
“Very, very much ...Santa” he replies…
“And do you know she loves too?”… I asked again…” I know”… he answers…
“Son, she is very lucky to have you and you’re lucky too to have her, and that’s what matters!”