All essays © Colleen Anderson
More Essays by Colleen Anderson
Mrs. Santa Claus
My friend Sandy must be among the people who are relieved to have the holidays nearly over. During the Christmas season, she starred in her annual role as Mrs. Santa Claus for hundreds of children in West Virginia. On some days, as many as three hundred tots climbed on her lap and looked hopefully into her face.
The standard script for Mrs. Claus required her to ask two questions: “What do you want for Christmas?” and “Have you been good?” By the end of the season, she wasn’t very comfortable with either question. The first one seemed to feed the consuming frenzy we all complain about. The second one was even more difficult for her: if Santa Claus doesn’t come through with the Nintendo 64 or Sing ’n Snore Ernie, does that send a message that the child wasn’t good enough?
It was the middle of a long day for Mrs. Claus. A line of children stretched from one end of the school gymnasium to the other. The kids were keyed-up and restless, and the teachers were hard pressed to keep order. The little ones came and went, and after a while, although she did her best to make eye contact and smile into every little face, their faces were all alike.
Except for one. His face was dirty. His clothes were ragged. His hair was matted and unruly, and he smelled bad enough that Mrs. Claus took a deep breath before she invited him to sit in her lap. But his eyes were alive and full of hope. When she asked him what he wanted, he whispered, “I want a new house.”
“I don’t think there’s much I can do about that,” she began, and seeing the disappointment in his face, she tried to make it better: “But maybe someday; if you work hard in school, maybe someday you can have a new house.”
“I want it now,” he said.
It was time for the next child. And Mrs. Santa Claus couldn’t bear to ask, “Have you been good?”
Broadcast on West Virginia Public Radio, December 1997
The old lady in front of me at the express checkout has shocking red hair.
She is wearing an asymmetrical black hat, dark glasses, a fake leopard-skin jacket that grazes her hips, and skin-tight black stirrup pants over toothpick legs.
She’s buying dog food. I read somewhere that people eat dog food when they can’t afford anything else.
The cans go into a bag, but the woman isn’t ready to leave. She’s holding up a long line of us, with our microwaveable frozen dinners and six-packs of beer, tapping our feet and checking our watches and scanning the tabloid headlines while she tells the checkout clerk a story.
“My girlfriend died and willed me her poodle,” she says. Well, that explains the dog food.
“Uh-huh?” the girl responds. She’s young, maybe seventeen, and she was brought up to be polite to old folks. Behind me, the guy with the beer grunts in frustration.
“It was her dying request,” says the old woman. “You can’t say no to something like that. I didn’t really want a poodle. I already have a dog. But you have to honor a friend’s last request.” The checkout clerk nods.
“I have a little Pomeranian, and that poodle does not like it. Oh, he hates that little dog! But they’ll get used to each other. They’ll just have to.
“Besides,” she adds significantly, “he’s valuable. He’s got the little pom-poms on his legs and tail, everything fancy.” She pulls a frayed pair of gloves from her pocketbook and puts them on slowly, finger by finger. She picks up the bag of dog food.
“What color is he?” the girl says as she reaches for my frozen dinners.
“Black,” the old woman says happily. “Jet black. Honey, he’s a beauty.”
And so is she, as she sashays through the electric eye door and disappears into the night.
Broadcast on West Virginia Public Radio, August 1994
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