Downstairs in the farmhouse here, I have a small furnished apartment that I sometimes rent out. Last year I rented it to Santa. A portly man in his fifties, he was serious about this Santa business. No fake beard and rented suit for him. He had a full, bushy, pure-white beard that flowed to his chest, a cloud of white hair, and a big, round body. When he came to look at the apartment, he explained that he’d be here for only a short while–that he had many bookings across the country and would be traveling quite a bit during the Christmas season. As an example, he told me that he was to be the Santa on stage for the Boston Pops. He was extremely believable.
When he came that day, he did a song-and-dance routine for me in my kitchen. A heavy man with nimble feet, he danced lightly across my kitchen floor. His voice was a soft tenor, and as he moved across the old floorboards, he sang Santa songs (“You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why … Santa Claus is coming to town …” ) His red suit was exquisitely tailored, the black boots made by a cobbler of old, as was his belt–shining black leather with a bold brass buckle that held in his ample waist. Oval rimless glasses, perched halfway down his nose, completed the picture. It seemed to me that he really must have come down from the North Pole for this short while, to stay in my house and tend to his duties around New England.
So he took the apartment. Perhaps he had a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer stabled elsewhere, but so far as I could see, he drove a red Prius to get around to his various commitments. Glancing out the window from above, I could see him leave the apartment in full regalia, tuck himself into the little car, and set forth. I’d sometimes pass him on the road, not hard to spot, the big red man behind the wheel of the little red car, his white beard glowing from within.
Even when he wasn’t playing Santa, he seemed like Santa. On the rare days when he took time off, he’d dress in red-and-white-striped long underwear beneath a pair of dark-green woolen overalls, red piping running down the side of each leg, and red clogs. He’d sometimes emerge from the apartment dressed like that, his dog on a leash, and together they would walk up the road. That is to say, I rarely if ever saw him dressed like an ordinary fellow, doing ordinary things. After a while, I wasn’t sure what was real.
I’d hoped my guests might catch a glimpse of my Santa when they came here on Christmas. But, for days before and after Christmas, as the snow sifted down, he was gone; I never saw him. And then, sometime after New Year’s, he came home, and it seemed to me that he slept for days. Sometime in February, he left for good. He never said where he was going. When I was cleaning up, getting ready for the next tenant, I found tinsel on the floor and a big box of especially nice-looking candy canes in the closet. So I knew Santa really had been here, at least for a while.
Edie Clark’s new book is States of Grace: Encounters with Real Yankees, a collection of her profiles of unique personalities, available at edieclark.com and selected bookstores.