I rarely feel the holiday spirit until Christmas Eve, when I’m seated around the tree with my family. Lights, parades and hordes of Santa Clauses just don’t do it for me.
But this year, I had one encounter that made me reflect on Christmas a little earlier.
When I covered the annual Dream Factory Christmas party, I interviewed Robert Goodman, who has been putting on his Santa gear and hearing the wishes of chronically ill children for nearly 30 years.
His comments never made it into the story, but I kept thinking about our conversation. I remember him telling me that he often heard people say that, out of all the Santas they’d met, he reminded them the most of Kris Kringle from “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Goodman, a Paducah native, told me that dressing as Santa Claus was a tradition in his family: His father was a Santa in downtown Paducah, and had given Goodman a few tips.
Goodman said his first rule when playing Santa Claus was to never make a promise he couldn’t keep. “We’ll see what we can do,” he tells them, and then advises them to mind their parents.
It’s a good rule for any Santa, but when I considered what it might mean when dealing with a critically ill child, I felt moved nearly to tears.
I asked Goodman if the wishes of sick children were any different from those of kids who don’t struggle with a serious illness. He answered that they don’t ask as much for the newest toys — although it’s not an uncommon request — as they do for the simple things. The kids he talks to want to be able to ride a tricycle, or to see their parents smile.
“Your heart about falls plumb out on the floor,” he told me.
This had to be the most rewarding, heartbreaking conversation I’ve ever had with someone dressed as Santa Claus.
As much as people talk about the true meaning of Christmas, that has become as well worn as Goodman’s Santa suit. While I always try to focus on what the holidays really mean to me — more a chance to spend time with the people I love than an opportunity to receive gifts I’ll forget about by New Year’s — I sometimes need someone to refresh my memory. I think we all do.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641.