I don’t remember how many years it’s been since I first tucked a resin black Santa figurine in my kids’ Christmas stockings. I bought them at Morrison’s Discount Warehouse each December for something like 87 cents. After Morrison’s closed about a year ago, the black Santas became even that much more precious (to me).
I bought the Santas – in five different poses – by the hand-basketful for a couple of reasons: First, I felt sorry for the happy-looking little fellas because they weren’t exactly flying off Mr. Morrison’s shelves. (No great surprise, considering the North State’s pearly white demographic.)
Second, I felt drawn to the Santas because of my family’s unanswered genealogical question regarding a certain Mamie Lamb, my mother’s paternal grandmother, regarding whether she was or was not black. That question remains, despite the efforts of the most accomplished of genealogists.
At any rate, the miniature black Santas became my kids’ Christmas stocking staple, just as expected as See’s butterscotch suckers, toothbrushes, candy canes and hollow chocolate Santas.
Unexpectedly a few Christmases ago, one Santa lingered long beyond the holidays and hung around for the rest of that year. This was when youngest son Joe still lived in the states. Initially, Joe hid his Christmas Santa somewhere in my house after I’d joked that the kids shouldn’t ditch unwanted stocking stuffers behind, which is exactly what Joe did with that year’s last Santa.
Once I discovered the leftover Santa, I hid it in Joe’s car, so he’d have to take it with him. But before long, the Santa resurfaced at my house.
So it went, a drawn-out game of boomerang Santa hide-and-seek. Sometimes, just when I’d nearly forgotten about the elusive Santa, he’d reappear in the most unlikely places.
As an aside, this long-term hide-and-seek tendency is shared by all three of my kids. As an adult, Josh returned a special rock to Mrs. Longnecker, a junior high school teacher who’d first given it to him. And for a few years daughter Sarah and I had a back-and-forth thing going with a tiny homemade fruitcake I’d put in each kid’s stocking (the boys probably threw theirs away). The little fruitcake would remain in one of our freezers until the next year. The tradition ended the year Sarah lost the fruitcake during a move.
But Joe was tenacious with his Santa-stashing. Over the next months I found the Santa resting in my glovebox, and buried head-first in the flour bin, and sandwiched between a pile of pillow cases in the linen closet and chillin’ in the freezer behind the ice cream.
In turn, I tucked the Santa in Joe’s jacket pocket and in his laptop satchel and anywhere else I could think of. I always laughed when I found the Santa. (Well, I did scream a little when I found him in the flour. First thought: rat.)
It went like that for a long time, until true love interrupted our game and lured Joe away to the Czech Republic, where he married Marie.
But first, the morning before we drove Joe to the airport I squeezed the hide-and-go-seek Santa deep into Joe’s suitcase.
That’s how the first black Santa found his way through customs and into the Czech Republic, which, I’m fairly certain, might have been the first black resin Santa to ever visit there.
That traveling Santa wasn’t lonely for long because over the following months his brethren found their way to Ostrava via packages. Soon, Joe and Marie had a regular crowd of the black Santas in their apartment.
Although Joe assured Marie this was not your typical American holiday tradition, he nor I could imagine the holidays without them. It gave me comfort to know that even when I couldn’t be with my son on the other side of the world, Mr. Morrison’s Ambassador Santas were there as a reminder of Joe’s (unconventional) American life.
Come June, Joe and Marie will have been married three years. Daughter-in-law Marie has been the ultimate of good sports as their Santa collection has grown, especially because the colorful little guys pretty much hog center stage of Joe and Marie’s holiday decor.
The thing is, as of December, Joe had all the Santas. Plus, without Mr. Morrison’s discount store, my source completely dried up.
That meant, like all good things, Joe’s and my fun had come to an end.
Frankly, though Joe and Marie never let on, I think they were relieved to hear of the end of the Santas. No more! Enough!
But wait. Call it an after-Christmas miracle, but imagine my surprise when I recently found one dusty black Santa tucked far, far back on a cupboard shelf.
Had I put it there? Had Joe?
Last month I slipped the gift-wrapped prodigal Santa into the plush arms of a stuffed Eeyore that my twin Shelly mailed to Marie. (Totally unrelated, Joe and Marie are nuts about Eeyore.)
At last, the entire Santa crew is together again in the Czech Republic where they live with Joe, Marie, their Rag Doll cat, Neffi, their English bulldog, Barbie, and many, many Eeyores.
It’s a good life for them all.
I like to think Mamie Lamb would approve.
Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Northern California in the tiny town of Igo.