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Monday, November 22, 2004

One Too Many Santas

There we were snowbound somewhere in the heartlands, over fifty friends and relatives gathered for the holidays all trapped together in the old family homestead by the worst blizzard in twenty years. The snowstorm had been raging for the past twelve hours and showed no sign of stopping anytime in the foreseeable future. The wind howled and shrieked like some huge wounded beast that was determined to beat down the door and rage through the house. Peering through the frost covered windows we could see the swirling waves of wind blown snow was still falling thicker than the hair on dear old Aunt Polly's puckered upper lip.

The stampeding herd of shrieking sugar-maddened children ran from one room to another. They swept from one room to another in a nonstop migration to and fro. The thunderous sound of their passage rocked the old overheated farmhouse. They clamored to see Santa and would not be denied. The unruly mob of young ones almost overturned the Christmas tree as they franticly clawed for position to get closest to where jolly Santa would settle down and hold court after he parked his snowmobile carrying a big bag of loot for all the girls and boys.

The shell-shocked adults quickly sought much needed refuge in quieter rooms of the farmhouse. They hid behind doors barricaded against the siege waged by the horde of youngsters overrunning the living room. Occasionally one of the braver adults would stick their head out to check to see if there were still a few unbroken chairs to sit on when time came to watch Santa passing out of the gifts later that night.

The night air suddenly was filled with the flashing of blue lights and the shrill earsplitting howl of a fire-truck siren. Some of the neighborhood volunteer firemen hell-bent on rescue had driven their aged four-wheel drive truck into a huge snow bank. They swore and spun the tires as they rocked the truck back and forth. They only managed to bury the truck deeper into the mountain of dirty packed snow pushed up over the past twenty-four hours by countless snowplows. In the desperate attempt to keep two lanes of traffic crawling along on their way to home and kin these heroes had become stranded.

I opened the door to see what was the matter and they staggered into the house begging for help to shovel a path out of the driveway. Once inside the shelter of the house these three stranded snowmen thawed out, we saw that it was Bill Le Blanc, Otis Blake, and Charlie Moffett. These three drunken reprobates were some of my old man's drinking buddies and partners in crime. They were all long-term denizens of the local bar down the road, so it was no surprise that they would seek shelter under our snow-covered roof.

Our new visitors had been tipping the bottle all evening to ward off the bitter chill of the frigid arctic blasts from out of the north. The wind whipping down Lake Michigan was like a giant straight razor that could cut you to the bone. The thermometer showed a temperature of minus 5 degrees, and was plummeting as we watched. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and massive amounts of antifreeze was just what the doctor ordered.

After more than a few tastes of Christmas cheer, they were three sheets to the wind, telling off-color jokes, leering waving mistletoe over their heads, puckering up their lips at any lady passing by and singing bawdy carols. The vote was unanimous; it was going to be one hell of a Christmas Eve.

Seductive aromas of home cooking called to the men like a siren's song. The scent luring us into the busy kitchen like moths attracted to a flame. We had been hungrily circling the growing pile of temptation that filled the kitchen table. A ravenous pack of men folk, drooling over the cookies, candies, rolls and slices of turkey, ham and assorted cheeses. It was not our fault that the ladies had outdone themselves this year. We could no longer wait to sample some of the morsels that had been prepared with such loving care for the upcoming holiday feast.

The womenfolk were on the verge of throwing all the unrepentant male food thieves out of the kitchen. Our constant raids on whatever dish that popped out of the oven, or was left unguarded on top of the stove quickly spent even their usual vast sea of patience. We would smile at them and try flattery to postpone the inevitable exile to the chaos of the child-packed living room. We were shooed out of the kitchen at broom point. The law had been laid down and we were told that we had to wait for supper just like everybody else. We grumbled, quickly snatching whatever was at hand and fled the scene like thieves in the night bent on evading capture and punishment at the hands of the law.

We exited the kitchen with whatever booty we could grab on our way out, stuffing food into our mouths to avoid detection. As we entered the dining room there was a loud banging at the door. This was followed by loud laughter and the sound of frantic tapping on the glass storm door. Someone had the presence of mind to look at the clock and notice that Santa was running late this year. Through the window we spied the flash of a red cap and the white of what was obviously a fake beard. Next we all heard a loud whoop and a bone jarring crash as Santa toppled and began swearing like a drunken sailor.

We looked at each other passing the buck on who was going to go answer the door and help get the old boy back on his feet. It was quickly if not quietly decided that we all might be needed to get the job done, because our Santa was a three hundred pound biker, and none of us were feeling particularly frisky enough to do it on our own.

Throwing open the door we grabbed the fallen Santa, and hurriedly scooped him up. We got him back on his feet. We wasted no time pulling him into the safety of the house. Everyone in the dining room looked closer at Santa, our jaws dropped and then looked at each other in dismay. Even the most oblivious of our group could see that something was wrong, seriously wrong!

This was not our Santa! First thing you could see was that his beard was about to fall off and was only held on with some old Band-Aids. This gaping pretender stood at least a foot shorter and at over one hundred pounds lighter than our Santa. Not to mention that this one smelled badly. The stench was a mix of aged sweat, stale beer and cheap cigars. The less intoxicated members of the male hunting party noticed one more thing that was cause for concern.

Instead of the huge bag filled to the top with brightly wrapped presents that we expected he had a dirty beat up burlap potato sack slung over his shoulder. The sack he carried was doubly surprising to us all because it was moving on it's own accord. We could hear a muffled hissing and growling coming from inside it. The sack bounced on his scrawny shoulder with a life of its own. It was all too plain to see that something alive was trapped in there, it was not wasting time waiting to be let loose. Whatever Santa had in his bag was desperately trying to escape.

He stood there wobbling back and forth, his red suit hung off him like a rumpled dirty sack. He grinned and yelled "Merry Chrissssssmuush!" spun around and fell flat on his face in the middle of the group who filled the dining room. The potato sack tumbled in flight and bounced off the wall into the corner spilling a live hissing enraged opossum onto the floor. The frightened beast snarled and bared its teeth at the onlookers, and then promptly rolled into a ball and played dead. Santa crawled slowly on his hands and knees over to where it landed, picked the bag up and grabbed the opossum by the tail and threw it back into the sack.

The band-aids holding his tattered beard to his face had met their match. The dirty white clump of whiskers fell to the floor. We could see that this uninvited impersonator was none other than old Tom Morris, the town drunk. The children screamed and ran away, hiding behind chairs and the sofa in the living room. Tom was not deterred by the general panic he caused. He belched loudly and finally regained his shaky footing. "Damn if that didn't spoil my surprise!" he slurred, wiping the drool from his mouth on a grimy threadbare sleeve. "Anybody got a drink for good old Santa? It's hard thirsty work bringing you damn little kiddies a bunch of Christmas joy. Bessy got stuck in a snow drift when I was heading home from the Waterford Inn and your place was on the way."

Tom was a neighborhood legend around our town. He was part bogeyman, part brunt of every joke told at the tavern in the village of Waterford. People whispered and offered their sympathy to his long-suffering wife. The common opinion being that he was not too bright, lazy and shiftless. The one true love of his life was not his wife. That was Bessy his rusty second-hand riding lawn mower that he rode almost year round. It can't be said that the loamier returned his affections. Tom had lost 3 toes on each foot one summer when he ran over an embankment and fed his feet to the hungry metal mistress of lawn care.

Suddenly the roar of a snowmobile filled the air. Squeals rang out from the living room as the kids spotted the guy in the red suit through the frosted windows. We all rushed to the door to welcome Santa. " Ho Ho Ho!" Santa bellowed as he strode through the door carrying a huge bag of brightly colored gift boxes and toys. "Ho Ho Ho?" Santa looked at the pretender and frowned. " Who is that guy dressed like me?" he asked. We explained the situation to our mystified Santa, and asked if he could give Tom a ride home because his wife might want him home almost as much as we wanted him there.

Santa winked at the young ones and grabbed Tom by the scruff of his neck. He merrily shouted to the mob of children who threatened to swarm over him like a nest of ants that had been disturbed. "Santa will be right back children! I want you all to behave and stay out of my bag. I have to deliver a special present to Mrs. Morris." He picked Tom up by the seat of his pants. He then threw the defrocked pretender over his shoulder, and carried him out the door. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief as they rode off on Santa's shiny red snowmobile into the snowy night.

Santa quickly returned and began passing out presents to all the waiting girls and boys. At last the youngsters were placated. The parents got them settled in to bed and eventually they fell asleep. The men folk finally got fed and drinks did flow. We were all on our best behavior and no fights broke out. After midnight the snow stopped. Later the sky cleared revealing a full moon. The snowy yard brightly sparkled in the moonlight. And all was right with the world on the night we were visited by one too many Santas.

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