On one occasion, at the ripe old age of five, the trip was bittersweet. My mother, a woman who was never sick, had recently returned home from the only time I remember her being hospitalized, and Dad took a day off to take me, the youngest, to Richmond. Of course, my dad, a man who was raised by a very frugal immigrant mother, never experienced a real festive Christmas and he was determined that would be different for his own children. And no one loved Christmas better than he, so he was likely as excited aboutthis trip as I was. My older brother and sister were in school, they were likely more aware of the reality of Christmas than I was, so this trip with Dad all to myself was so, so special.
We got up early and were in Richmond about thirty minutes before Santa's arrival. Even then, there were already about fifty children with their families queued up to see the jolly old fellow. By the time my eager anticipation was about to explode, the line started moving and within the hour I was walking up to sit in Santa's lap. His red velvet suit was immaculate. His grooming could only be described as perfection and he wore white gloves that were as white as new fallen snow, occasionally stroking his beautiful beard in thoughtfulness. And when I told him that the main thing I wanted was for my mom to get well, he momentarily looked serious, then laughed from deep down inside and began to speak.
He said, "Don't worry, that will be taken care of, " as he winked at Dad. "I'm sure you will get whatever else you want as well". Then he gave me a bug hug, told me to thank my dad for bringing me and that he would see me for lunch.
As I almost tripped walking away, trying to look one more time at Santa, I wondered what Santa meant by that last remark. So, I asked Dad who was chuckling at the scene.
"Well, Son," he replied, "We've got a little shopping to do for Mom and your brother and sister and then it will be time for Santa to take a lunch break and we'll be joining him."
But how did Santa know? I would only find that out years later.
Just before noon, Dad finished the shopping and we headed for the Tea Room, a large dining area which was decked out for Christmas. Each table had festive decorations and the walls were covered with Christmas pictures, ornaments and large snowflakes and draped in greenery. We were ushered quickly to a table near the spot where the guest of honor, Santa, was to be seated.
Now I can't tell you what we had for lunch, but I can say that after Santa's grand entrance, he started making the rounds of the tables and when he arrived at our table, he sat down with us for a moment. He reminded me that my mother would be fine, gave me another hug and shook hands with Dad with a wink. I was truly amazed at his memory.
By the time lunch was over, I was exhausted since we had been up since five in the morning. So, we started our two hour drive home during which I fell asleep. When I awoke, we were pulling in the driveway and Mom was walking out to the car. She and Dad were both beaming when they saw me rubbing my eyes.
Mom asked, "Was it a long day, Son? And what did you think of your visit?"
I just grinned, gave her a big hug and then did the same with Dad as I told him thank you for a wonderful day. I truly think he had as much fun as I did.
Years later I found out that when Dad made advance reservations, questions were asked for Santa and a number was assigned to each reservation. When we signed in, the match was made by an elf and it provided a "cheat sheet" for Santa to use as he worked the crowd of excited children. But to us it was magic, and I've never seen a Santa so authentic and real in every way since. In fact, years later with little children of my own and living in Maryland, we always brought them to Richmond for Santa. From my adult perspective, it wasn't quite the same as back in 1952, but it was still a wonderful experience.
And that's the important thing about giving our children the opportunity to experience such events. The memories they will retain will last for a lifetime. I know they have for me.
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