Uncle Dave transformed into Santa Dave again this year.  Some years we get the “grumpy” Santa Dave.  Grumpy Santa Dave just sits on his chair and hands the gifts to the children.  Grumpy Santa Dave has to be told to ring his belt of bells.  Grumpy Santa Dave has to be told to say, “Merry Christmas” and does so with little emotion while his white beard muffles his voice.  But this year, we had the loving Santa Dave.

Santa Dave entered the room, calling out, “Merry Christmas Everyone!”  The bells were ringing and his eyes were twinkling.  Once he and his elves, great nephews Josh and Rich, arrived at the tree he sat in the folding chair.  Rudolph was right beside him and my stomach began to ache.

Santa Dave with his helpers and Amy and Ali.

Santa Dave with his helpers and Amy and Ali.

My stomach aches every year because I worry about forgetting someone on Santa’s list or forgetting their presents at my North Pole

workshop as I did one of my first year’s being Santa’s shopping elf.   Santa’s jolly self eased my fears though.  As he started to call out names read off the tags by his elves and whispered in his ears, he rose from the chair.  He pointed to the child, crooked his finger and motioned them to come forward.  Once within his space, the child was given the present and Santa outstretched his arms waiting for a hug.  Some of the children were eager, others were hesitant, and then there was the few middle and high schoolers whose cheeks match the suit they hugged.

I continued to watch and forgot about the possible overlooked present.  My mind wandered, as it did last year, to a future Christmas without Santa Dave.  I cannot remember a Christmas without Santa Dave or at least his nephew Mike being a stand-in when Santa’s in California visiting Pam.  Even the years when the Marietti party was in limbo because of my parent’s divorce, Santa Dave appeared at my home.  As I’ve watch Uncle Dave’s mental state decline since this past fall, I think about what life will be like without him. His death will be as hard on me as my parents’ probably.  Our relationship isn’t even like the one with my sister.  I truly can’t imagine life without Uncle Dave even though he’s not involved in my day-to-day routine anymore, but come specific days like Christmas…I just don’t know.

I turned to my cousin Craig as Santa Dave’s gift bag slowly emptied and said, “I don’t think I’ll be able to come to the party when Santa Dave isn’t with us anymore.”  Craig looked at me and gave a slight nod.  We’re not sure anyone will be able to.

Originally written in January 2010 at a UP Writing Project Saturday Session.