When I was living in Los Angeles in the 1970s, one year I went home to visit with my parents and best friend in Detroit for Christmas. I was very excited to see them but it was the arrival itself that I was especially looking forward to. Both my parents and Anne were coming to pick me up at the airport and I had a surprise for them.
Anne has been my best friend since high school (and still is today). She and I had always been into television and movie westerns. As teenagers, we used to write ourselves onto our favorite shows as guest stars just for fun. There was a running joke between us about who was going to grow a mustache first so we could rob banks in the Old West.
So toward the end of the flight to Detroit, I applied a pretty good-sized fake mustache, which had passengers in the seats around me puzzled (until I explained the joke) and then interested. I had on pin-striped woolen pants with suspenders, a long western-style coat that swirled to my ankles and a Fedora-ish hat. I felt I looked the part as much as I could to pull off a “western” surprise for Anne.
The plane was delayed in landing, then delayed in getting to the gate because of the weather. Altogether, we were late about 90 minutes. By the time we got to the gate, it was going on one a.m.
Finally, we were able to disembark. I walked off the plane and down the long tunnel to those who were waiting at the gate (in those days – long before the strident security measures were initiated after 9/11 – people could greet you as you got off the plane). Fellow passengers stared at me; some ahead of me waited in the terminal to see what the reaction was going to be when my people saw me.
And then I was the one who got the surprise.
My father had dressed as Santa Claus, something he did with his naturally white hair and beard every year for charity events. Because he did this regularly, his costume was quite nice. With the red suit, red hat and black boots, he looked exactly like the Santa everyone expected. And there was a huge crowd waiting to see who Santa had come to greet.
I found out later that they had arrived well ahead of time, stayed around while the plane was delayed and wandered around the airport killing time. They had caused quite a stir, especially with all the kids, many of whom were cranky from travel or being up past their bedtime. He had apparently made many people’s holidays that night and certainly brightened up the anxious kids and those who were waiting for the weather-delayed flights.
I saw him immediately in the crowd (how could you miss Santa?) with my mother and Anne beside him, and broke out laughing so hard I almost dislodged the mustache, which by now was far over-shadowed by the man in the red suit. The crowd applauded and laughed as we all hugged – it was a movie moment. Just not the movie I was expecting.
While I have had an overabundance of wonderful Christmas memories, this is one of my favorites. My father died in 2001 and is missed to this day, by many, many people. I wish I had a picture of him in the Santa suit that I could share here, but, alas, this was before the advent of cell phones with cameras. I just have my memory of that moment. And it’s very sweet.
Wishing you all a very happy holiday with wonderful memories to be cherished in years to come!
I offer this with love and gratitude…