Onomatopoeia, long, long ago, in a sleepy little town nestling in a valley surround by worn down slumbering mountains, lived a Stephen. Not just an ordinary Stephen. This one was a 6 feet and 3 inches tall, lean – leaning towards gangly – long-haired and happy go lucky hippy type of Stephen.
Life was simple. Stephen was content to while away his days singing to his dog and tame magpie, playing his guitar and baking cakes and tarts to share with his happy hippy friends or simply rereading Lord Of The Rings. Sometimes he’d painstakingly carve bowls for bongs out of soapstone, at other times he’d roam among the hills and mountains herding goats for milking, with other like-minded companions.
Most of the time you could find at home in his shared rented bungalow. One day, marvelling over his great fortune at being so happily placed (“Nothing short of a miracle” he’d muse) he decided it was time to give something back to the community.
This quaint little town was home to a university and a teacher’s college. It was blessed with an equal number of Public Houses (called Pubs) and churches. Also, due to the fading echos of ‘free love,’ the town was blessed with any number of young single mothers and their children.
One refuge for these little ones was an establishment called Hobbit House. It was there that Stephen thought best to offer his aid. He volunteered to help out free of charge due to the munificence of the government who paid a sum, enough to get by on, once a month that he might maintain this idyllic lifestyle.
He spoke with the women who ran the delightful preschool come kindergarten, and they decided it would be good for the children to have a positive male role model (it was a very different world) due to on absence or indifference of their biological fathers.
It worked out wonderfully well for all concerned. Stephen got along with the directors and teaching staff and was the only male presence in the school. He was about 18 years old.
Stephen loved the children and they would flock to him whenever he showed up. (Which was two or three times a week as per arrangement). Time rolled by and seasons slipped out of one and into another as they had done since time began. As it drew to the end of the year and Christmas was approaching the directors, in their infinite wisdom, asked if Stephen would play Santa Claus for the Hobbit House Christmas party and distribute presents among the children.
“Of course,” said Stephen, and so it was agreed.
“You know how to ride a horse, don’t you, Stephen?” asked another of the directors.
“Of course!” he replied. (Though between you and me, he’d never sat upon a horse in his entire life – he had once ridden upon an elephant, but that is hardly the same thing). “How hard could it be” he had thought to himself. After all, he has seen it done countless times on TV and in movies.
“Then it is settled!” said yet another director, “Meet us about a mile up the road. You can mount up there and ride down to Hobbit House, dismount, and then distribute the gifts to the children. They will all be clearly labelled.” (The presents, not the children)
“Not a problem,” said Stephen, for he was fearless if not incredibly naive. “I’ll be there. You can count on me.”
Soon the day was upon him. A Santa suit had been delivered and Stephen tried it on. “Hmmm, it’s a bit baggy,” he thought, “they will know it’s me right away… I need padding” and this indeed was very true.
It took three pillows, one cushion, plus several sweaters and pullovers and two pair of pants to create the desired effect. He donned the beard and long white wig.
“Hmmm, my eyebrows are a dead give away,” he said looking into the mirror, “I’ll have to fix that….” He searched his home high and low until he found the while paint like stuff that people used back then to maintain the brilliant white of their tennis shoes. He coated his eyebrows liberally.
“Perfect!” he thought… “except for one more thing… If I just came flying in from the North Pole I should have windburn. I need to look more ‘ruddy.” By now, Stephen was really getting into the role. While searching for something to whiten his eyebrows he comes across a discarded lipstick. He used this deftly to buff his cheeks. “Now, ” he thought ” Now, I look like Santa.”
The process of getting into costume did take time, though not as much as he had thought so he sat back to wait to be picked up. To pass time, he rolled a joint.
To pass even more time he smoked it. It was very strong stuff.
One thing I forgot to mention, this sleepy little town was very cold, freezingly so in winter, but come summer and Christmas it was blazing hot. By the time young Stephen was picked up the temperature had climbed to 98 degrees and intended to climb higher.
“You look amazing!” exclaimed the director assigned to pick him up.
“Thank you” he mumbled through his beard, “but I feel extremely hot… ”
“Never mind, ” she replied, “it won’t take long,” she assured him. By the time they arrived to meet the horse the temperature was over 100% and climbing. Stephen washes sweating profusely.
“Wow, you look great, thanks for making such an effort,” said another director with the horse, “are you alright?” she added seeing him slowly melting away. The horse was snowy white, bedecked with tinsel and lots of bells for good measure.
“I might need a hand getting into the saddle… Feeling very hot… sweating.. ” said Stephen. This was very much the truth. “Which way do I go… I can’t see too well,” he added. Both directors looked concerned.
“You do look a bit unsteady,” said one, maybe I should walk you and the horse up the school. Oh and here are the gifts.”
The sack was almost as big as the horse.
“Thank you,” said Stephen. It was a long walk, even seated as it were, upon the merrily jingling horse that was actually doing all the work.
“Almost there,” said the director leading the horse. “Here, ring this bell and call out ho, ho, ho!!” she added enthusiastically. The children were cheering and screaming with delight. Rallying himself with a rather weary display of vigour he Ho Ho Hoed and let the bell peel forth.
“Where are we,” asked Stephen, just to be sure. He wasn’t feeling at all himself. “I can’t see… The white stuff on my eyebrows is melting and running into my eyes. It really stings” he explained.
“We are here, at Hobbit House, can’t you hear the children? ”
So that was what all that noise was, he thought to himself.
“You can get off the horse now” he was told.
“Can I?” he replied, not at all convinced but making it sound as positive as he could. He started to dismount, dropped the Santa sack during the process and did everything he could to not pass out from heat prostration. Someone else approached.
“What’s wrong with Santa? ”
“He can’t see”
“I can’t see.”
“Why can’t he see?”
“White shoe polish in my eyes”
“He has white shoe polish in his eyes. It melted ”
“It really stings”
Meanwhile, the children were calling out for Santa so he shouldered the heavily laden sack and was led blind into the throng of excited kiddies
“It’s Steve!!!” They exclaim as one. “No, I’m Santa!” he called back the kids tugging at his beard and trying to rip presents from my hands. “I can’t read the names, I can’t see… I think I’m going to pass out.. ” he said falteringly to one of the teachers trying to lend a hand. “What’s wrong with Santa Steve?” the little hobbits wanted to know. Someone relieved him of the sack. Someone else grabbed his arm and whispered into his ear ” You poor thing. Just get back on the horse ring the bell and say ho ho ho, Merry Xmas” and ride back to the car, we will have plenty of cold water for. Can you manage that?”
“Yeah, okay…” and with that, he gathered his remaining strength called out goodbyes and lead back to his waiting steed. “Up you go!” and once more he was astride the noble beast.
”The horse is facing the right way, it knows where to go. Now on your way” she gave it a slap as he, recalling the many Westerns he had seen, dug his heels valiantly into the horse’s flanks. The horse took off at an astonishing pace. First to go was Santa’s hat. That was soon followed by the wig as the horse now at full flight galloped jingling and jangling down the road heading straight towards the New England highway. Ho, ho, hos trailed over his shoulders as the beard spun around to the back of his head. Santa Steve and the horse bolted past the people waiting to receive him and help get out of the stifling costume. Ho, Ho, Ho turned to whoa! Whoa! Whoa!! as they rapidly approached the busy four-lane highway. Santa Steve pulled desperately in the reigns but the horse had its head and would have none of it. Semi-trailers and cars blared their horns swerving and dodging as the now terrified horse flew through the traffic and crossed the roads. Santa Steve risked a glance over his shoulder and saw a flotilla of cars in hot pursuit of the runaway horse. It was a miracle they made it across the four lanes unscathed. Santa Steve had given up trying to halt the beast. He merely clung to the horse’s neck figuring that sooner or later it would tire and eventually stop. Eventually, it did.
The flotilla caught up, disgorging worried parents and teachers. What a Ride! Everyone was amazed. Somewhere during the horse’s bolt all the pillows had been jogged loose and having been collected up, returned with no little admiration to the hapless, Stephen. Cool refreshments were offered. Slowly his hammering heart settled back down to a gentle rhythm… Peace came upon him…
Dear and gentle readers. It was many years before I ever mounted a horse again. I did eventually learn to ride. My first wife Amanda, taught me when we moved to the country back in the late 80s. Both my grandfathers and my father all sat an excellent horse, though none ever thought to instruct me in the art. The story above is true. Or as near to the truth as I can recollect
Have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year.