Santa Claus for a night

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By Ken Begley


I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my lifetime, but probably the wildest was substituting for Santa Claus for one night about 23 years ago.

You know, old St. Nick is awfully busy this time of year and he can’t be putting in a few million personal visits all the way up to Christmas while trying to get his sleigh loaded up for the big night. He needs help. So a few grizzled old men will suddenly have their bellies of jelly swell up, their faces grow whiskers and their noses get red this time of year.
Actually, some of this happens after one too many holiday parties and hitting the eggnog a little too much but that’s another story we won’t dwell on today.
Some actually don the royal red suit and step out to remind the youngsters that they had better be good for the sake of good gifts or something like that.
Cindy and I were married in 1989 and for a year-and-a-half, we didn’t have any kids. I was really in the Christmas spirit that year, not the spiked-eggnog type, and asked a couple of my sisters if they wanted St. Nick to visit their kids one evening close to Christmas.
“What do we have to do if you come down?” They questioned me.
“Nothing,” I said. “I’ll just take the customary milk, cookies, steak dinner and bottle of fine wine.”
“Steak dinner and bottle of wine!?!”
“Well, maybe just the milk and cookies will be enough,” I said.
I really was in the mood to put on the red suit and head to the big city.
Anyway, I borrowed a Santa outfit from Fred Edelen, who gave me some last-minute instructions.
“The secret, Kenny, is to go in quick and to get out quick. Kids are a lot smarter than you think and you don’t want to be found out by lingering around for too long.”
“You mean I won’t have time for the steak dinner and bottle of wine?”
“I said, get in and get out. Don’t be drinking anything while you’re wearing that suit of honor or the real guy will find out and come after you.”
So, I packed up a few little toys and candy in my red sleigh and with my elf in tow we were off! Actually, I don’t own a red sleigh, and besides, reindeer are hard to find around here. I had to use our 1989 red Dodge Omni compact. Also, elves are in short supply, as well, so I drafted Cindy for that job.
I had to dress up, beard and all, in Springfield and was the passenger in our fired-up Omni as Cindy drove us to a crowded subdivision in Fern Creek, which is 60 miles away in Louisville.
If you want to have a hoot, just dress up as Santa Claus and drive through heavy traffic with everyone getting just a glimpse of St. Nick whizzing by in a little red car unexpectedly. Cindy would pull up to a stop signal and then I’d slowly turn my head and look into the car next to us. You would suddenly see the stunned look of little ones and laughing adults of all ages.
Of course, sometimes I get that even without the beard and red suit.
But in this case, the kids’ eyes looked like they were about to pop out of their heads. Then Cindy would start barreling down the highway before anyone knew what had happened.
We arrived early and Cindy wanted to hit Bashford Manor Mall before we headed out to my sisters’ houses. I wasn’t about to wander through the mall, so I reclined my car seat all the way back so no one could see me while she went shopping. The mall was packed with cars that night.
I got tired of that after about 30 minutes and released the recline button on the seat so I sort of popped up into the air like a jack-in-the-box.
I happened to do that just as a bunch of heavily- tattooed gang bangers were passing by in a tricked-out car.
You should have seen the look on their faces. They were stunned for a second and then started pointing, laughing and waving. I hit the recline button and suddenly went out of view again as they drove away.
It was fun making our visits to my sisters’ houses.
However, one of the sharper kids had pretty well figured it out by the next day.
It was pretty dark at about 9 p.m. when we headed home, but we had to make one last stop. The little red Omni was out of gas, so we stopped at a Speedway on Bardstown Road in Louisville.
Cindy always gets a Coke when we are on the road and went into the shop for it. Therefore, people riding by got to see Santa pumping gas for the ride back to the North Pole.
Suddenly, I looked down and there was a pretty little wide-eyed girl about three that looked like “Cindy Who” from “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” just staring up at me by the pump while her mother stood close by.
I asked the mother if it was OK to give her baby some candy and her mom said it was all right.
I gave her a hand full of chocolate kisses. Chief Elf Cindy came out to drive us away while a stunned little girl watched us disappear into the night.
To date, that was the most fun I believe I’ve ever had during the holidays before our own kids came into this world.
I wish every Christmas could be like that night.
I never did get my steak dinner and bottle of wine.
But that’s OK.