December 16th…“AS A CHILD, DID YOU EVER MEET SANTA CLAUS?”
Santa works in mysterious ways, and for me, that meant seeing him for the first time on a local children’s cartoon program called “Bart’s Clubhouse” that was broadcast daily out of a television station in Mason City, Iowa. Up until that moment, I had only heard of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas via oral stories and books. By the modern marvels, at that time of my little boy life, the tall television antenna, that extended high above our farm house roof line, “caught” the TV airwaves from Iowa. It then mysteriously sent a myriad of cartoon joys down to our little black & white television set that sat in the corner of the Living Room of our near century-old farm house. Mr. Bart Curran , the TV show’s host, was a kindly gentleman that gave us kiddies a steady diet of fun cartoons during the entire year, but here, at Christmas time, there was something extra special for us to look forward to. A big, festively-decorated television was brought onto the club house studio set. I think there was even a sign on the TV that said something like, “SANTA-VISION”.
In my little boy imagination, I figured that somehow, those amazing television magicians must’ve created an antenna tall enough to send and receive a signal all the way to the North Pole on top of the world. At least, that’s what this Kindergarten or First Grade boy thought. Anyway, a “Popeye” cartoon had just finished up and there was “Bart” walking over to that “Santa-Vision” TV set. Fidgeting with knobs and buttons on the TV, Bart would start to talk to the screen….“Calling North Pole, Calling North Pole!!! Santa Claus, come in, please!!” In little boy amazement, I began to see an image slowly start to materialize on the screen through the electronic “snow storm” at the North Pole. Another few seconds and THERE HE WAS, good old St. Nick, himself!!!! Santa and Bart would chat back and forth about all the gifts that were being made by the elves and how fun it was for St. Nick to get all the boy’s and girl’s letters, etc.. As far as this tiny guy was concerned, if you saw something on TV, it must be real, right? I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be grand to meet Santa in person someday?” Little did I realize that that wish was about to come true in just another day or so.
A fine, frigid Saturday dawned with a full, thick blanket of snow over the sleeping farmlands that surrounded our farm home. There were going to be special Christmas events in our hometown village of Kiester, Minnesota that day, so we bundled up and slogged our way from the house, through the snowdrifts, and into our family car.
Having mounted good old-fashioned link chains on the tires, Dad fired up that ’52 Chevy and churned his way out of our farm yard and guided our car out onto the snow-covered country roads that led to our quaint town. Little did I know, as I was sitting in the back seat, that those festivities included Santa………in the flesh!!
About a mile or so from the village city limits, our Chevy was fast approaching a long box-sled sleigh being pulled by a handsome team of BIG Belgian draft horses. Our father recognized the man driving that team of horses as our very kind neighbor, Chet Ozmun.
Chet Ozmun was a “bigger than life” kind of a man. Tall, burly and rotund, this mountain of a man was a blessing to our farm family many times over the years. Recognizing our family rolling up alongside him, Chet pulled back on the reins of his beautiful Belgians and brought them to a halt as Dad pulled the car alongside the rustic farm sled. Quicker than an elf can blink, my little boy eyes popped wide open as I perceived that next to Chet was none other than the red-clad Jolly Ol’ Man Himself………SANTA CLAUS!! Mom cranked down the front passenger-side car window as Dad and Chet visited a bit and exchanged “Season’s Greetings” to one another. Then, Chet asked, “Would Elliott like to ride in the sled with us for the remainder of the journey into town?”
Sitting between my parents, I joyfully burst out, “WOULD I EVER!!!…….YES, PLEASE?!!!” Still young enough to be just “knee high to a grasshopper”, I zipped across Mom’s lap in a wink and began to exit the car via the rolled down window. Chet’s powerful arms reached down from his sled seat to snatch me up and flew me through the air to land my tiny bottom right between him and Santa. I was beyond thrilled to the point of being downright giddy!! Chet and Santa fluffed up and brought down a heavy lap robe that cozied me in for the sled ride of a little lifetime. As the rest of our family drove ahead on the way into Kiester, I heard Chet give a soft “Heeyah!”, with a gentle slap of his reins, to his team of massive horses as they came to attention and obeyed their master while they leaned into their harness. This Santa “sleigh” lurched forward and on to this magical glide of a ride. With every muscled bounce of these equine giants, their silver harness of sleigh bells sounded out in singing harmonies of holiday cheer as they transported the three of us the rest of the way into town.
I was on top of the world, literally, with Santa to my right, Chet to my left and those mighty Belgians “singing”, in a way, with their harness of silver bells going “ching a ching a ching” as we eventually approached the “Kee Movie Theater” for the yearly free Christmas movie put on for the benefit and joy of the children of our village. Santa visited our town each year at this time to hand out bags of hard ribbon candy and peanuts to all the children after our free movie and cartoons were finished. THAT was one VERY special moment of meeting Santa Claus for this tiny Norwegian Farmer’s Son.