I will always believe in Santa Claus, and with good reason.
My grandfather, Robert Gerald Brown, Sr. was Santa:
This picture is of him, from his days as Santa Claus. Real Beard, Real belly, even the real rosy cheeks.
One year, he even went away during the Holiday season because he was the Santa Claus at a big mall in the North East.
He was an amazing and a wonderful man.
Grandpa died of Cancer in 2002, just a few months after I got out of the military.
This week, he would have been 81 years old.
In my childhood, I thought he was a Vampire hunter: he owned a shop that made wooden stakes.
He was a Mason, a Shriner. And, from what I remember my mom telling me, a Boy Scout Master when my uncles were younger.
Perhaps the coolest thing about my Grandpa was that in his later years, he ran a business selling foods at carnivals.
It started out as a fundraiser for the Shriner’s hospital, selling ice cream at carnivals and fairs. But, it expanded.
Grandpa Claus sold ice cream, funnel cakes, bloomin’ onions, lemonade, an entire cavalcade of snacks and sweet foods at festivals. And he made sure that he included the entire Brown family in on the business.
Anyone who wanted to, he’d let work with him for a day, or for a week, or for a festival.
I say “wanted to” because working with Grandpa was fun family time for most of us. He enjoyed his work at the fairs, the looks people gave him when they saw Santa scooping Ice Cream or making a funnel cake. He was a reminder to kids at the County Fair to behave because Santa Claus was watching, even in the spring time.
I worked with him only one time, when I was 13, I think. We drove two hours to Central Georgia for a craft fair. And that day he taught me two important lesson about sales.
The first was to give things away. He gave away ice cream. He found a local police officer, the boy scout master, and a pair of teenage girls and gave them all a free cone, telling them all “The Shriners tell me I have to give away Ice Cream to on-duty cops/Boy Scout Masters/Girls who are wearing green” (or some unique identifier about the person). It was his way of showing people, “Hey! Ice Cream! Come Buy some!”
The second was, whenever possible, be the only person selling your goods in a given place. He would only sell ice cream at a fair if there were no other ice cream vendors. The same went with other foods he sold.
And it worked.
Because no one wants ice cream until they see someone else eating a cone.
Grandpa was one of the most extroverted people I know. He could walk up to a complete stranger, and within minutes, strike up a conversation and talk like he’d known the person his whole life. He made friends with ease.
He also served in the military, and when I joined the service, he was very proud of me. To this day, I’m the only of his grand kids to do so (Unless one of my cousins has joined and I’m not aware of it).Christmas of 1984, I was 6 years old and in Kindergarten. That year, I had a doll, Kimberly, who was my child. Kimberly went with me everywhere until she had an unfortunate incident where my baby sister ripped her head off and was sent to a dolly hospital to be repaired. In the meantime, I was scared, alone, and doll-less in my room.
So that Christmas, Grandpa gave me the one present I think I loved more than almost any other present I’ve ever received.
He bought me April Natasha Brooks: (She was born Cornelia Natasha, but that had to change. Yuck.)
That was the year that the Cabbage Patch dolls were the gift. the Hard gift to find, and all that. Grandpa told me he saw her at the store, and she begged to come home with him, so she could live with me. I fell in love with her at once.
April was not a replacement for Kimberly, she was a supplement, a friend for Kimberly when she came back from being repaired. And someone for Kimberly to play with. I’ve long-lost Kimberly, but April I still cherish.
I don’t remember wanting one, or asking for one, but April was the present I needed, the toy I love and cherish even now into my *cough* repetitive late twenties.
And it happens every year. At some point in the holiday season– either his birthday (December 21), on Thanksgiving, the first Santa I see, or even when I watch a film, I’ll start to tear up and miss him a little bit. Just a bit.
This year, that was yesterday, when I watched Miracle on 34th street.
Why do I believe in Santa Claus? Why will I always Believe?
Because my Grandpa is Santa.