SPRINGFIELD – Ok, I’ll admit it. I have Santa Claus issues.
It’s not that I suffered some Santa trauma as a child. I believed until I was 4 and then one day I cross-examined my mother and demanded to know if Santa was real.
She tried to deflect my questions. But I would have none of it. Somehow, the existence of Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy was flushed from my life forever.
Or so I thought.
Flash forward a few decades and my wife, Joan, and I are new parents. I made the pronouncement to my wife that we would not lie to our child about the existence of some magical elf in a red suit.
Joan gave me a look that seemed to convey in one glance: “You’re a moron.”
So, what did my new bride do? She enlisted the support of my mother.
And suddenly, I’m hearing it in stereo: “A child needs to experience wonderment at Christmas and you are denying it.”
The look of disgust from the woman who birthed me and the one who gave birth to my child was enough to make eggnog curdle.
And our baby Gracie and her two future sisters were taught that Santa was real.
And, yes, they experienced wonderment at Christmas. And my wife and mother were pleased. And, no, none of our daughters ever cross examined either of us about the existence of Santa. (That doesn’t bode well for us having any future reporters in the family.)
But speaking of reporters and Santa, my issues with St. Nick have only grown during my 33 years in the news business.
Back when I was a young reporter at the Quad-City Times, I decided it would make for a fun feature story to write about what it’s like to be Santa.
So, I dressed up in the red suit and cap, attached a beard with an elastic strap, and watched hundreds of kids line up to sit on my lap at the Davenport, Iowa, public library.
I was told the key to being a good Santa is being noncommittal, which, by the way, is also the secret to being a good politician.
Whenever a youngster wiggling on my knee reeled off their wish list, I would say something like, “Be good and I’ll see what I can do.”
And then, a little girl crawled on to my lap.
I asked, “What do you want for Christmas?”
She looked me in the eye and replied, “I want a new dad. My old dad left, and my mom is really lonely.”
I looked into her hopeful eyes and sputtered. I finally said, “There are just some things beyond Santa’s power.”
The next day the top editor of the paper wandered over to my desk and suggested I stick with the “hard news” stories and leave the human-interest features to others.
Several years after that was by far my most traumatizing Santa experience. I was writing about homeless children for the Las Vegas Sun.
I quoted an 8-year-old boy saying, “I don’t know if Santa will know where to go this year. We keep moving every week. I guess I’ve been good. I go to sleep on time every night.”
Although I turned the story in several days in advance, the editor didn’t get around to reading it until 45 minutes before deadline.
He wandered over to my desk, “Is this kid kind of slow? Eight seems awfully old to believe in Santa. Go find out if he thinks Santa is a real person or an idea.”
Huh? Within 45 minutes?
I’ve been asked lots of questions, mostly good, by editors throughout the years. But this is without a doubt the dumbest.
I found myself racing across Las Vegas on deadline to a school that served the homeless. I talked the principal into calling the boy into the office.
When the perplexed youngster entered the office, I dropped down on my haunches and asked, “Richard, do you think Santa is a real person or just an idea?”
He gave me his answer and I found myself barking into a telephone receiver minutes before the presses began to roll, “He says, ‘Santa is real!’”
Yes, Santa is real, not just in the hearts of all good people, but even in the mind of the most cynical journalist.
• Scott Reeder, a staff writer for the Illinois Times, can be reached at: email@example.com.