News staffers share Christmas memories: A sixth-grade lesson from ‘Santa Steve’

When David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries” appears on stage every December, it reminds me of my own experiences as a store Santa Claus, 24 years ago in Vancouver.

Beyond the itchy suit and long lulls between kids (for this was a crafts store and not a busy mall) there was little drama or pain involved; the kids, and their parents, were almost always enjoyable. Often the little ones were hesitant about sitting on my lap, so in those lulls I would stroll around the store and feign surprise when happening into one of the reluctants.

Those “accidental” encounters often made them want to pay visits to Santa after all. For some kids, this rite of passage just needed to be on their own terms.

My experience portraying Santa dates to my sixth-grade year, when I played the Right Jolly Old Elf in the school pageant at Rose Hill Elementary near Seattle.

One of my guiding principles was to project — to speak loud enough for all to hear. That way, I would avoid what happened two years earlier.

As a knowing fourth-grader, I was surprised and a little bothered when that year’s Santa, played by Steve Farmer, did not project, leading to his teacher to call out, “Louder, Steve!”

I wondered why Mr. Slater did not just say, “Louder, Santa!” Did he think Santa/Steve would otherwise think he meant some other Steve sitting in the gym?

Given that three were one or two borderline believers in the second grade Mr. Slater might just as well have called out, “Hey kiddies, there’s no such thing as Santy!”

After my sixth-grade Santa stint, I couldn’t leave the Santa spirit at school. I brought home the nicely wrapped prop presents — all empty — and placed them under the tree.

Speaking of “empty” boxes, one year my cousin Peggy mailed us six two-inch square packages, each beautifully wrapped, and we hung these clever ornaments on the tree each Christmas.

Years later, my aunt and uncle came to visit from Michigan and saw the presents on the tree. “You never opened Peggy’s presents?” they asked. Inside were six tiny gifts; I do not remember what they were. Our family’s surprise was gift enough.

My Mom resealed the boxes and for years we continued to use them as ornaments.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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