Dec. 11, 2013 — I don’t recall exactly when it started but I know I was in college.
We were having Christmas Eve dinner when a man came by to bring my dad a decanter of Christmas cheer.
As he turned to leave, he asked if I had plans for the night. I was leaving early on Christmas Day on a fishing trip to Florida with friends but my evening was free.
The visitor said one of his companions had been called out to work and that he needed someone to be his driver.
Thus began my involvement in a holiday ritual that lasted for several years.
I think about it each Christmas and it motivates me to help others as I remember that true charity comes from the heart.
This man and a close friend had started becoming Santa’s helpers on Christmas Eve.
They took turns wearing a Santa suit and delivering gifts to small children of their friends and also to kids in a poor neighborhood.
They enjoyed holiday beverages as the night progressed. It usually wasn’t long before I was drafted to wear the costume while they sat in the car, singing Christmas songs.
The usual starting place was the backroom of a country store where a friendly storekeeper and his friends had a holiday songfest.
I vividly recall two one-armed musicians playing the same guitar. One picked the strings and the other fingered the frets on the neck of the instrument. It didn’t sound too bad, as I remember.
Some parents would meet us in front of their homes with presents they wanted their kids to have that night.
Getting a gift on Christmas Eve was a common practice in our little town.
As the night wore on, I began to notice that our happy band of Santa’s helpers also stopped at homes of more modest means.
Magically, Christmas treats would appear to the delight of little kids. Some parents would be emotional about seeing the joy of Christmas in their humble homes. So was I.
It was the second Christmas before I figured out the origin of the treats and surprise presents.
This good man and his sidekick collected money and chipped in themselves each year to make sure the poor kids had Christmas.
I was asked to never speak of what was done by whom but I decided the story needed to be told.
As for the trip to Florida after my first Santa mission, my pals said I woke up on the outskirts of Chattanooga.