The warm, mid-October day began with a great start because as the wind ebbed, it offered the opportunity for Dan to rake more of summer’s last colorful breath.
As he began to prepare to work, his cell phone rang. On the other end was a familiar voice. Her name was Nancy (She was the mother of the child for whom he had played Santa at the Fort Campbell base hotel two years ago). After the small talk, she stated that she had shared their experience that year with the personnel at the All-Services YMCA. They (the ASYMCA) were inquiring if he would like to be Santa for them and wondered if he could also (as Santa) visit the soldiers, and a veterans’ home as well.
Dan jumped at the opportunity. As always, there was much preparation to be done by Nancy and him. A few weeks later, Santa and his elf traveled to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The first stop on the schedule for Santa was visiting 5th Group. It was arranged that Santa would be driven in the back of a pickup truck sitting on a chair, holding the tie-down straps in one hand, as if on a sleigh. The Sergeant-Major (who was driving) drove by all the soldiers, standing in formation with Santa waving and shouting, “Merry Christmas to All!”
Afterwards, the Sergeant-Major stopped the truck and Santa had the opportunity to thank all the soldiers for their sacrifices and keeping us safe. Subsequently, the soldiers were dismissed, and he began to pass out candy canes and pasties—which Santa had brought in limited supply and dubbed “Yooper Soul Food.” As this was occurring, some soldiers, upon seeing the pasties, asked him where he was from. He stated, “Gladstone, Michigan.” Suddenly, they started to say, “I’m from Menominee.”, and another said that he had relatives in Republic, Michigan, and that he would be visiting them during the holidays. Even the command staff said, with warm smiles on their faces, that they have heard about the Yoopers. After that, many soldiers wanted their picture taken with Santa. To see the joy and happiness amongst the soldiers was priceless.
His next stop as Santa was in the evening at the ASYMCA. As the children began to arrive, he noticed that there was only one parent with many of them. Suddenly, he came to the realization that the parents of many of the children were probably deployed. (Afterwards, he was told that this suspicion was correct.) As he sat and talked with the children, especially those whose parents were deployed, he noticed a deeper sadness. These children seemed to linger longer and give firmer hugs to Santa, so much so that Santa had a hard time seeing and he had to use his handkerchief to wipe the tears away. Many times, as Santa looked up from talking to the children, he saw in their parents’ eyes the same condition he had.
The next day, Santa and his elf traveled to a local veterans’ home. Upon arrival, the facility director took them to a recreational room, where many of the veterans had gathered. As Santa distributed goodies to all of them, he talked, gave hugs, and thanked them for their service. Again, Santa had the same condition as one man could not talk but shook Santa’s hand with tears in his eyes. The others thanked them but here again, their handshakes were strong, complementing the gratitude etched in their faces.
Afterwards, on the drive home to Michigan, he felt so content, fulfilled, and moved about the experiences he and his elf had had during the past few days. He was awestruck how one act of kindness had affected so many people and gave thanks to God for this Christmas journey.
So, in closing, when we get together this Christmas with family and friends, let us not only remember the ones who cannot be there with us, but those who are on the front lines with our armed forces, fighting to keep us safe and our way of life secure. To all of you from the Paul family, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!