Rosemary Laughlin/Voices: All eyes on Santa Claus

Rosemary Laughlin/Voices: All eyes on Santa Claus


Shortly before Christmas, I was sitting in the waiting room while my friend was having an eye examination.

A elderly man entered, checked in and sat nearby me. He had a head of fluffy white hair and a full white beard. His cheeks were pink, his eyes blue. He wore red pants and a plaid shirt with suspenders. A holly sprig poked from the pocket. In short, he looked like Santa Claus.

What stood out most was in his hand — a long, gold-brown J-shaped pipe.

"Good afternoon," I said. "What a beautiful pipe you have."

"Why, thank you," he replied. "It's a Meerschaum. This one was made in Denmark. It looks like wood, but it's really a light mineral substance. Did you know the word is German and means 'sea-foam?'"

I confessed I did not.

He twinkled a smile and continued, "I consider it my duty to carry it and look like Santa Claus. I'm fully open to the joy and hope Christmas gives to many. By nature I've got the basic Santa shape, and the pipe is the stamp of validity." He leaned toward me confidentially. "You see, I've discovered that kids pretty much believe that that store Santas are the Big Man's helpers. Outside the mall they're not sure."

"Oh?" I tried to recall my own thinking at that age.

As if on cue, two little girls walked in with their mother. They stared at Santa while their mother went to the reception desk.

One took a breath and said softly, "Santa?"

"I am, yes."

The other's eyes widened. "If you're Santa, why aren't you in your workshop?" she demanded.

"I'm here to get my pre-flight check-up!"

They were impressed, I could tell. So was I.

They stared some more. Then the other frowned at his foot supporter. "Santa wears black boots, not a cast,'" she blurted.

Santa explained, "Oh, this is just temporary. One of the reindeer stepped on my foot, and I want to be sure it's in good shape to get up and down all those chimneys."

Wow, talk about quick and clever! But the girls were still skeptical. "Why are you wearing a plaid shirt? Santa wears a red coat!"

I watched Santa draw in his breath and think a bit to answer that one. He was terrific. "I got hot so far from the North Pole and had to take my coat off!"

"Oh!" They nodded in acceptance.

"Girls!" Their mother was back. "Come on. The doctor is ready for us."

When they were gone, Santa and I broke into laughter.

"You're really good," I said.

A few minutes later, something happened you're going to think I'm making up, but I'm not. A very pale, thin, sub-teen boy walked in with his mother. I'd seen them pass by earlier in the hall. He went right up to Santa, laid his head on Santa's shoulder, and embraced him. Meerschaum Santa stood up and tenderly hugged him back.

Five seconds. Silence. The boy smiled and continued out and down the hall with his mother. She sent a smile and a wave to Santa over her shoulder.

"That's how I get my Christmas gifts early," Santa said to me.

Rosemary Laughlin lives in Urbana.