Guest column: Santa’s Memoirs

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Bill Thomas

As a veteran of World War II, and having served for nearly three years in the 938th Artillery Battalion, I was honorably discharged on Oct. 25, 1945.

We had served in North Africa, and fought 565 days in combat in Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. Most of my war experience was as an Artillery Forward Observer.

At home again, I went to the nearest Chevrolet dealer to trade in my 1940 Chevy for a new 1946 Chevy.

The salesman, Jack happened to be a school friend. He told me he would “put your name on a list.” I was surprised.

Jack explained, “Hardly any automobiles were manufactured during the war-years. There is great demand for new cars, especially by the people who worked in the war-defense plants, and many of them have enough cash to buy new cars. I’ll put your name on our list. And I suggest you do as I did… go place your name on many other car-dealer’s lists. And when your name comes up, buy that car for cash, keep it until your name comes up again. Then buy the next car and sell the one you have. I’ve bought and sold three cars so far. People are eager to buy and will offer you more money than you pay for each car. I’ll call you when your new Chevrolet is here.”

I thanked Jack, and left.

I immediately drove my ’40 Chevy to five assorted car dealers and put my name and phone number on each list.

In the next three weeks, I received phone calls from four car dealers so I purchased one car at a time.

I bought the Chevy two-door sedan from Jack for $1,170 and sold it a few days later for $1,700. I made $530 over my cost.

Next, a Ford dealer phoned. I bought that car for $1,300 and sold it for $2,000 after I received the call that my Buick was available.

I paid $1,500 cash for the Buick and earned $600 on that transaction.

I didn’t set the price. I accepted their offer. I could have negotiated and gotten more cash.

My next purchase was for another Ford and that I kept and drove.

More autos were coming off the production lines. The demand for car purchasers had increased, the waiting lists had shortened, and I felt satisfied that I had earned over $2,000 and had a new, fully-paid Ford in my possession.

In the meantime, my long-time friend, Perry and I worked at a few odd jobs. Perry earned his money by driving a small truck to deliver small end tables and lamps to customers’ homes. We decided to take a six-week motor tour across the USA. We’d head east from Detroit to New York, then to Boston so Perry could visit his stepfather, then westward to Chicago and onward to California. We agreed to share expenses.

While in New York City, Perry and I had visited many of the usual attractions, notably Times Square, Broadway, Rockefeller Center and of course, the Statue of Liberty, and a few nightclubs.

We rented a hotel room. I slept late one morning. When I awakened I found Perry’s note that he had taken my car to go see his stepdad.

I went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.

While waiting for my ham and eggs to be served, I looked through my wallet to see how much money I had. I also found the phone number of my mother’s friend, Katina, who Mom had asked me to call.

When I phoned, Katina spoke perfect English. I explained the situation about my car.

She said, “You are close. If you take the subway at 10 this morning to the 139th Street Station, I’ll meet you there.“ I agreed.

We met, and walked to Katina’s apartment.

There I met a beautiful, young, petite brunette who happened to be Katina‘s niece who was also visiting New York. I was introduced to Soula. We chatted for a couple hours until Katina served a lunch of Greek foods.

That’s how I met my future wife who I married in 1951.

Three days later, Perry and I began to enjoy the wondrous sights as we continued our tour to California.

Inasmuch as this article is supposed to be about me playing my role as “Santa,” I’ll forego writing about other numerous, great experiences, and get back to some precious memories.

I played Santa at our Greek church’s “Kid’s Christmas Party” in Anaheim. (The Santa costume was a bit loose.)

The next year, we went to visit my sister, Helen who lived in the City of Orange.

Later, we went to a J.C. Penney store in Orange. While my family shopped in the store, I went to see the store manager who is one of my clients.

I found him in his office, truly upset. I asked, “What’s the matter, Pete?”

Quite irked, he replied, “Oh, the guy who was supposed to be here to play Santa hasn’t shown up yet. I’ve got a couple hundred little kids coming here, expecting to see Santa…”

“That’s no problem, Pete–I can play Santa.”

Pete immediately changed his attitude, “You will? That’s great. You’re about the same size. I’ll get the suit.”

I changed into the red Santa suit, enclosed a small pillow at my waist, and adjusted the whiskers and red cap and white tassel.

I was ready to play Santa Claus.

As I stepped out of Pete’s office, I saw a couple dozen kids standing near a beautifully-decorated Christmas tree.

Instead of the usual “HO, HO, HO,” I loudly repeated. ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS.”

I found the chair reserved for Santa and awaited the first kid to sit on Santa’s lap. Little did I realize my own three kids were in that group of kids. Tim, the oldest didn’t sit on my lap.

Mary was next to sit on Santa’s lap. While I, Santa Claus asked her what she wanted for Christmas, the sleeve on my left arm slid up enough for Mary to see my wristwatch. She shrieked, “Santa is wearing daddy’s watch.” I tried to console her as a Santa would and not revealing I was actually her father.

Soula calmed Mary by telling her, “Many men have wristwatches just like your Dad’s.”

Shortly after I finished with the last kid in line, Pete whispered, “The other guy is here.” I managed to change clothes again in Pete’s office and rejoined my family as we shopped. Mary asked to see my wristwatch. She said, “It is the same as Santa’s”

When Tim was 9, Mary was 6, and Zoe about 3, I played Santa for them on Christmas Eve in our home in Lakewood. A few days before Christmas, I had arranged with Soula to leave the back door unlocked; place five wrapped presents in a red bag, and stash it in a kitchen closet.

While the family sat in front of our tree, I let everyone know I was going out to our car. I pulled the Santa suit out of the trunk of the car. I quickly put on the red Santa suit, rang the front door bell, and then ran around to the back door.

While everyone was at the front door, I snuck into the kitchen, grabbed the bag of presents out of the closet. I tinkled a little bell and strode into the dining room where the kids hurried to when they heard the bell.

I disguised my voice. I called each person by name and handed a present to everyone. I held one wrapped present and told Tim, “Give this one to your father.”

I bade “Merry Christmas to all” and went out through the front door way,

At the car, I quickly removed the Santa suit and entered our house. The kids rushed to tell me, “Daddy, Santa was here.” Tim said, “Dad, here’s your present from Santa Claus.”

Our neighbor across the street asked me to play Santa for his two kids.

The word got around so much that I played the role of Santa for 17 kids in five homes in three cities, each year for the next five years. Fortunately, the kids got older. I resigned as SANTA.

Bill Thomas of Rowntree Gardens in Stanton, is a Veteran of World War II, and past commander of VFW Post 4048, and American Legion Post 857. Contact Bill at vvbthomasvets@gmail.com.

Guest column: Santa’s Memoirs