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He was a pleasant enough old goat named Frank

By John Gould / December 19, 2003



I think my mother was reasonable about Santa Claus. Her shrugged-off position was about like the mythical monster that told Alice he'd believe in her if she'd believe in him.

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Mother considered Santy Claus a pleasant enough old goat who meant no harm and was having some fun. She told us his real name was Frank, which happened to be the name of her husband. Then my father would tell again how the cheapskate of a penny-pinching parsimonious old Scot named Shamus MacSkinflint had fired off a shotgun outside the house on Christmas Eve and then came in to tell the bairns that Santy had committed suicide.

My mother was lenient about my father's flippancies and tolerated his Yankee jokes about the Scots unless he misquoted Robert Burns. I was just beginning to talk when she caused me to memorize the "Selkirk Grace." I was a man grown when I discovered there are other ways to start eating.

So we were privileged to indulge our playmates when Christmas came around, and we went along with the gag without telling them it was really their old man. It would be my first Christmastime in school that I livened our household's nonfrivolous Yule by singing:

Oh, Santa likes us girls,
He brings us lots of toys,
He likes us more, we really think,
Than he likes the noisy boys.

My mother asked, "Do you sing that in school?"

"No," I said. "That's what the girls sing."

"What do you sing?"

So I sang the boys' verse:

You girls all think you're smart,
But Santa likes us, too,
And he will bring us just as much
As he will bring to you!

My mother was a solid advocate of education as a public necessity, and she always joined in any learning effort we brought home. So now she said, "Why, the very idea! Setting boys against girls in Christmas joy! What kind of a doddle-headed dolt have you got down there for a teacher? I've got a batch of cookies to bake off, or I'd breeze down to the school this minute and give that idiot a piece of my mind! I never heard of such a thing! Who gets more on Christmas, boys or girls! What in the world are things coming to?"

As I say, I think my mother had Santy Claus figured out reasonably enough.

Then she said, "If I hear you sing that again, you'll have a fat lip and I'll probably bust two fingers. You hear me?" I said I heard her. When we had our Christmas tree in school and our class sang that song, I didn't sing, and our teacher asked me why. I said my mother told me not to, but I didn't go into detail about the fat lip.

For quite a few years our father played Santy Claus at the Congregational Church party. He didn't belong to that church, but he also managed to become the treasurer of the church's parish.

One time the church had a big coal bill, and as treasurer Dad had to scout around and find some money. He had almost enough, so he approached Mr. L.L. Bean. Mr. Bean had not yet become a mail-order tycoon, so Dad found him in his Main Street clothing goods store. "Lin," said my dad (everybody in Freeport pronounced "Leon" as "Lin"), "the church has quite a coal bill to pay, and we could use some help. How about kicking in a few bucks?"

L.L. Bean said, "But Frank, I don't belong to that church!" My father said, "Neither do I!" L.L. saw the point and wrote his check.

As SantA Claus, my dad introduced his own personal levity into the caper. He did his ho-ho-ho in the usual manner, but added quips and extras much enjoyed. There was the year, to name one outstanding haw-haw-haw, when the young daughter of the town's resident lawyer came center-front to get her gift directly from good old Santy's generous hand. My father had called her name as he read it off the card.

She was a sweetheart, and she tripped down the aisle in her new Christmas dress in triumphal style. There was Santa waiting with her wonderful present, in bright red paper with a green ribbon bow, and all eyes were upon her!

My father said, "Good evening, young lady, and here is Santa's gift for you. Merry Christmas! Yo-ho-ho!"

The lawyer's daughter curtsied prettily, and she looked up at Santy. "My father advised me to speak up and say thank you in a loud, clear voice that everybody can hear!"

Then Santy Claus replied to the lawyer's daughter, in another loud, clear voice that everybody could hear. He said, "And may I ask, young lady, how much your father charged you for this advice?"

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