As I See It

There is no Santa? Not so fast

Updated: 2013-12-25T23:29:10Z

By GEORGE (HOOT) HUHTANEN

Special to The Star

With all due respect to Virginia, everyone knows there is no Santa. The mythical fat man in red is nothing more than a figment of someone’s overactive imagination.

Well, try telling that to one little girl who met Santa one steamy Kansas City day in July 1993.

That summer was hotter and rainier than most. The Missouri and Mississippi were running wild, destroying roads, dams, levees and even cemeteries from North Dakota to the Southern Deltas. Kansas City was hit particularly hard.

Images of caskets bobbing up and down like big fishing bobbers in the Missouri were seared into memory, and hearts went out to those who saw dearly departed float down the river. Thankfully, many caskets were recovered but it’s not something you’d want to see again.

One of our nation’s finest traits is the way we come to the aid of those hit hardest by disaster. It was wonderful to watch thousands of volunteers fill sandbags, conduct food and clothing drives and do a zillion other things.

At the Kansas City Harvesters food bank, damaged food is collected, sorted, repackaged and sent out to food kitchens. It is a labor-intensive process done mostly by volunteers, which is what I was doing that sweltering Saturday.

While working, I couldn’t help but notice the cutest blue-eyed, blonde little girl standing next to me, staring intently and tightly clutching a stuffed toy, so I asked how she was doing. She said “fine,” but then blurted out “You sure are fat!” It’s amazing how fast a kid can go from cute to annoying.

My initial reaction was to ignore her but instead I replied “That’s what happens when ya drink too much beer.” She thought about that and then floored me. “Are you Santa Claus?”

Since I do look Santa-like, I decided to play along. I bent over and confided that I was but she couldn’t say anything or it would ruin the magic.

Her eyes got as big as saucers but she wanted more proof. “Why are you here?”

“Gets so cold at the North Pole, I like to come down south to warm up,” I replied.

“Where are your reindeers?” she then challenged.

Stifling a laugh, I explained “They’re at the North Pole; too hot here.”

That sealed the deal. She pulled me over to another table where a young couple was working and almost breathlessly proclaimed, “Mommy, Daddy, this is Santa Claus!” I nearly believed her myself.

Her parents quickly realized what was happening and joined the charade. They too asked about the North Pole, the reindeer and even Mrs. Claus.

Since I was falling behind, I excused myself and went back to work. The little girl followed and keenly watched my every move.

Eventually we had to leave. She didn’t want me to go but when I bent over to tell her good-bye, she gave me a hug and said “I love you, Santa!” She was gone and I never saw her again.

Just then a bead of sweat ran down my forehead into my eye. It looked like a tear, but it couldn’t have been. A real Santa doesn’t cry.

In the 20 years since, I sometimes wonder if she hated me when she found out the truth. Or did she learn like Virginia O’Hanlon did back in 1897 that Santa is more than a physical being and for one magical moment, Santa Claus really was real?

I’ll let you decide, but I know what I hope happened!

George “Hoot” Huhtanen lived in the Kansas City area from 1992 to 2003, when he moved to Helena, Mont. He was a president of the Kansas City Bier Meisters and a founding member of the Kansas Jay Hops, area home-brew clubs.

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