Playing Santa Claus

Playing Santa Claus

By Roger Heid

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During a recent Christmas Party, some joker brought up the old adage that a man goes through three distinct stages. First he believes in Santa Claus, then he is Santa Claus, and finally he looks like Santa Claus. I had heard this before, but it still makes me think sometimes. A look in the mirror tended to confirm this, especially after not having shaved for a number of days. Well, apparently I have reached stage three.

Now my mind started to drift back to 1965. I still rode the daily commuter train, but now I was working instead of going to school. I recall this to be just another morning in late November or early December.

Across the aisle, some students had their heads buried in some book, except one, a boy about eleven or twelve years old. He just sat there, staring out the window. I assumed that these students were preparing for some school test. That boy must have been in a different class, I concluded.

Suddenly, the students studying this book became louder and louder. Based on the content of their hectic conversation, I deducted they were not preparing for a test. No, they were haggling over a bunch of items in a Maerklin catalogue. Some things have not changed, I thought to myself.  Ten, twelve years before, I was one of those students myself.

The dispute kept on going. One of them turned to that non-participating boy inquiring what he thought about this and that. The boy abruptly got up and found an empty seat elsewhere in the car. I couldn’t help noticing his clothes not being in the best of shape. He sat in his new seat, all clammed up, staring on the floor. It did not take a major rocket science achievement to figure out what was going on.

As the day went on, I became more and more pensive. I vividly recalled my own yearning and the glorious fulfillment on Christmas of 1955, ten years before. I also remembered the days when I stood in front of the toy store showcase window, drooling over a whole bunch of stuff on display. By nightfall, this situation outright irked me, to no end. I knew I had to do something about this.


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The next day, after work, I stopped at a certain store I had been very familiar with, in the past. I needed to find out what I would be up against in terms of money. I expected the prices to have gone up some.


Modern Maerklin store in Munich

The clerk behind the counter, I remembered him, looked at me for a spell. He seemed puzzled.

“Gee, I haven’t seen you in years. Are you getting back into it?” he asked.

“Naw, not really. It’s for someone else.”

“Aha, you’re playing Santa! You better hurry. This stuff is selling out fast.”

I left the store and headed for the train station. The prices were not as bad as I had thought. A suitable starter kit would set me back about 250 Marks. Right now, I had 50 Marks in my pocket. Tomorrow, I could go to the bank and withdraw some money from my savings account which was intended to buy my first car. I figured this could wait 3-4 months.

Halfway to the station, I turned around. It’s now or never, I thought. If I hesitated too long, the kit I had my eyes on would certainly be gone. It was time to take decisive action. I re-entered the store.

“Gosh, I didn’t expect you back that quick,” the clerk muttered.

A brief glimpse on the shelf behind the counter showed an empty spot where the kit had been.

“Oh no! Did you sell it already?”

“Heck no! I put it away for you. I knew you’d be back for it. I have known you quite well, in the past. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Can you check with the owner if I can put 50 down and bring the rest tomorrow or early next week?”

“No problem, Roger. I own the store now. The old man retired. Now I’m the man. You want to take it with you now?”

“No, I will be back for it. Some things may be added.”

The next day, a Friday, I withdrew money from the bank and carried it to the store. The following day, a Saturday, of course, I met with my GI friends in our beer joint. They were talking about Christmas shopping, packages, and all that jazz.

“Well, Roger, did you get your shopping done?” Roy asked me.

I explained what I had done. All six GIs listened to me intensely. After a moment of silence, Roy spoke up.

“Roger, this is very noble of you, but you should not have pay for all this by yourself. Meet us again, next Saturday.”

During the following week, I found out the boys name and address. It was also disclosed to me that him and his family, a set of parents, a Grandma in wheel chair and six kids lived on the poor side of town. Spare me the rest of the details. They were not good.

On that Saturday, my friends handed me an envelope containing 120 Dollars. That translated into 480 Marks. Wow! I explained a few more details about this family.

Anyway, we agreed that on Dec 24, toward the evening, we would haul the loot to that family’s dwelling. I added a few more items to the starter kit. The following Saturday, 58 more Dollars were added to the collection fund. There were also a couple bags full of candy and stuff. The GIs had raided the commissary, it seemed.

It was furthermore decided that I mail the parents an advance notice of our appearance on Christmas Eve day, along with an explanation and the leftover money. The parents were to buy some clothing items for the kids, as they knew best what was needed.

The day finally came. The GIs had added a ton of food items from the commissary, plus a few bottles of you know what. There were six of us crammed in that old Mercedes. Shortly before nightfall, we pulled up.

I cannot describe the ensuing celebration. I best leave this up to your own imagination. It was glorious. I will never forget the surprise and the happiness in those children’s faces. This alone made my Christmas one of the best ever, plus I had started the second stage in a man’s life.

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One day in February 66, I noticed that the boy was not on the morning train, anymore. One of the students informed me that Bruno had suddenly died for some reason, the week before. I had a hard time to keep my eyes dry. At least, he did not have to go without his railroad.



One Response to Playing Santa Claus

  1. Silvano says:

    A very touching story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Merry Christmas.

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