As Santas go, it was A-Number-One, at least in the eyes of my father, as he stood there in the woman’s yard, snow falling gently on what had to be the last yard sale of the year. Sure it was missing one of its plastic legs, but many a fat, jolly old elf has gotten along just fine with just one leg. First off, my dad theorized, it made climbing down chimneys a tad easier, one leg slipping in much easier than two. And, of course, there was always the savings on socks and left boots to consider. My father did consider, and chose, picking up the Santa for closer inspection.
Ah, yes, the beard. As beards go, it was not all that it should be. In fact, it was only half what it should be, the right side having been chewed off by a dog or some other savage beast with time on its paws and an appetite for synthetic hair. On the bright side, which was the left, the beard that remained was full, fluffy, and white, and the missing right beard seemed to balance out the missing left leg, or at least it did in my father’s eye.
Still, did it work?
The owner said, yes, of course, and loaded in some batteries so my father could hear the HO-HO-HOs for himself. My father pressed the ON button and was delighted to hear the first HO come out jolly and clear, as did the second, HOing crystal clear and delightfully jolly. The third HO was something else—nothing jolly, clear, or delightful about it. At age six, I had only heard one other sound quite like it in my entire young life, and that involved my neighbor’s cat, Willy, and a fast moving Buick.
My father apparently heard something else, some strange yet beautiful sound that only fathers can hear, slapped two dollars into the owner’s hands, and brought his treasure home for all to enjoy, Christmas after Christmas. Actually, “enjoy” is not the right word, because I and my brother and sister would cringe and beg for mercy whenever my father reached for that ON button, which seemed to delight him almost as much as the sound that third HO made. So, every Christmas without fail, he would have his fun, and I would relive poor Willy’s fate and hold steadfast to my pledge never to own a Buick.
The years went by, my own children came along, and the One-Legged, Half-Bearded Santa passed to me. Fortunately, I no longer thought of Willy when I heard that third HO, even though my children scattered at the sound, which was and is curiously strange yet beautiful.
I wish I could describe it to you.