Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Our new Santa Claus is an old friend from high school. (He was a really good running back and didn’t even need to put on a fake beard in his new role.)
We were sitting at the same table at the Keyser Lions Club’s annual Christmas party.
This was at Potomac State College, where the Lions have been meeting for a few years now, and it’s generally agreed that we’ve been fed some really wonderful meals at my old alma mater. (The broiled fish is incredible.)
This one was no exception. The turkey was as tender, juicy and flavorful as anything you might want. It didn’t even need gravy, although I helped myself to it.
One of the injustices of growing older, I told my buddy, is that even though your stomach gets bigger, it can’t hold as much food as it once did (Goldy’s Rule 84). He agreed with me.
I have no idea how long the Lions have been holding this party, and neither did my dad, but he said he had to carry me to the first one.
One of our traditions is for each Lion to stand and introduce his guests.
When my turn came, I stood and said, “I’m Jim, and my dad is here someplace.”
When Bill Bane’s turn came, he stood and said, “If Jimmy Goldsworthy’s dad is here, so is mine!”
I called out, “Darn right!” Bill’s father, Ervin, and mine were charter members of the Keyser Lions. (Sight conservation is the Lions’ international project, and by now there may be millions of people around the world who owe their eyes to the Lions.)
At this time of year, people frequently ask me if I’m going to put up a tree or if my Christmas shopping is done.
I tell them that I have two trees, and I leave them up all year.
One is a tiny ceramic tree that lights from inside, and my parents used to put it on the television set in the middle of a Christmas yard. The other is a small artificial tree that cousin Cyndy helped Dad decorate for what proved to be his last Christmas.
Now that I think of it, I actually have five Christmas trees ... thanks to our old Santa.
Dad always wrapped a VCR tape and left it under the Lions’ tree for Santa to give me at the party. I would go up and sit on Santa’s lap, just like any kid would do — even if he’s in his fifties.
Then the night came when I walked up to Santa and looked at him, then shook my head and indicated that he should stand up. Then I sat in his chair and let him sit on my lap.
The time also came when I said, “This ain’t right. Santa oughta get something, too,” and began wrapping a present for him, always a Santa-related item like a tree ornament or a little figurine.
When I walked into my favorite restaurant the day before the Lions’ party, one of my favorite waitresses (that basically includes all of them) asked if I had finished my Christmas shopping.
“Yep,” I told her. “I buy one present each year, and that’s what I did this morning. It’s in my car.”
Then I sat down to have lunch. Shortly after that, Santa walked in and joined me across the table.
The first time I’d seen him a number of years ago, I thought he looked familiar. He looked and talked a lot like Larry Bolyard, one of my old coaches from Potomac State.
Larry’s late brother, Bucky, was one of my childhood heroes — and remains so today — because he and Jerry West, Willie Akers, Lee Patrone and Ronnie Retton came within two points of winning the NCAA basketball championship (California 71, West Virginia 70, in 1959).
I asked him if he was going to be Santa again, and he said he had decided to retire for a number of reasons. He hated to quit, because it was something he loved doing with the kids.
At a previous time when he thought he was going to have to give it up, Mrs. Santa herself told me — with loving eloquence — how much it meant to him.
He wouldn’t even be able to make the dinner because of other prior commitments. We agreed that at least during this time of year, you can wind up with a number of things to do at the same time.
“OK,” I told him, “don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Then I went to my car, got him his present and thanked him for everything he had done. More than just being Mr. and Mrs. Santa, he and Joan are two of my most treasured friends.
It won’t be the same without him, but it’s not like our paths aren’t going to cross again.
My usual way of greeting him — whether it’s in the restaurant, at Lions Club or a church dinner somewhere, is: “Why is it that I always see you in places where there’s food?”
He says, “Same reason I always see you there!”
I have five trees, and not just two, because one Christmas, Santa Larry gave me three little ones that he’d made himself. They’re green-painted silhouettes of pine trees, and each has a gold star at its pinnacle.
One is tall, one is short, and the other is medium-sized. They instantly reminded me of a photo taken of my parents and me.
In this picture, Dad is tall, Mom is short, and I’m somewhere in between, so I arranged the trees to match our positions in the photo and placed them in front of it.
The Clauses were pleased to hear about that. Like us, they’re family-oriented folks.
One of my Lions Club Christmas party traditions may have faded into history (or maybe not), but I still have two others.
I never unwrapped the last two VCR tapes Dad gave me, dating from December 2001 and 2002.
I keep them under his last Christmas tree, year-around, along with my favorite cards and a tiny chorus of caroling angels.
Both still bear their original ribbons, along with tags that say, “To Jim Goldsworthy from Santa.”
Each year when I go to the Lions’ party, I stick one of them in my pocket and take it with me.
And each year as I leave, I say to myself, “Now, it can be Christmas.”
As Tiny Tim used to put it: God bless us, every one!
Especially Santa and his bride.