One of the great blessings I've enjoyed over the past few years is that I worked at a school that provided a daycare for the young mothers. Additionally, for an hourly fee, faculty and staff could bring their children. I worked at that school from the day I threw up for the first time (signalling my pregnancy and setting the precedent for an unfortunate condition called "hyperemesis" - all four pregnancies, thankyouverymuch) to one year after my youngest child did not need daycare thanks to public school.
Within a couple of years of working at this school, we had a dramatic department turnover. One of the best decisions we made was to interview a retired counselor from Arizona who just couldn't get enough BYU blue and moved closer to the Cougars. We were immediately charmed and I was fortunate to work with him for many years as a colleague and a dear friend.
Robert also invested in a high quality Santa suit and pulled it out every Christmas season to play his part, going classroom to classroom and spending as much time as he could with the children in daycare, reaching into his big red bag to pull out candy canes and presents.
I happen to have a scrapbook's worth of photos of Santa scaring the daylights out of my children. One in particular is of my pretty little Alyssa, sitting primly yet warily on his lap, her sister, Samantha screaming in terror and leaning away from him while a pregnant me is trying to scoot as close as possible for one Kodak moment. I'm too tired to dig it up but it's a beaut.
Robert went through 3 bouts of cancer that spanned over 25 years. His signature response to "How are you?" was a witty quip, "If I were any better, I'd be twins!"
His last year playing Santa, I painted his cheeks with a rosy color and quietly noted his pale skin. He was finishing up another round of chemotherapy. I questioned if spending time in a room with snotty nosed kids would be such a fine idea with his compromised immune system. His wife, Diana, laughed at me when I raised the question. He wouldn't miss playing Santa for a measly dose of chemotherapy. He merrily laughed off my concerns and Ho, Ho, Ho'ed down the hall.
Robert died last year, only one month short of his yearly Santa Pilgrimage.
I don't think he left his Santa suit but my other former colleague dug one up and recently emailed me to let me know the tradition is carrying on.
In honor of the previous school Santa, I found some pictures that were easy access that make me smile. I hope you will smile, too.
*The author would like to to proudly note that she did not cry a single tear while putting this post together. In fact, she is still grinning goofily despite missing her friend, Santa. Who can look at those pictures without a smile spreading across their face?
You're smiling, aren't you. Yeah. You are.