He’s been there for several years, right on one of Albion’s main streets, an imposing character who, like the real thing, inspired both smiles and terror from small children passing by.
Santa stood about twenty feet tall, took fifty bucks of electricity to keep inflated all season long, had a bulb inside that made his belly light up like a bowl full of radioactive jelly, and carried a sign in one hand that said “Ho Ho Ho.” There was a fan at his base that quite literally blew air up his skirt.
He was a gift to the family, and until he arrived I used to make fun of people who put big inflatable decorations outside. “Redneck much?” I’d say. “Might as well leave big bare areas where your yard used to be, or put a propane grill on your front porch.”
Then one day he arrived, compacted into a surprisingly small box (which you can be sure I was never able to stuff him into again). I looked around and realized two important things about my home:
A. There were big bare areas in my front yard.
B. There was a propane grill on my front porch.
So I blew up Santa Claus. Boy, I’ll bet that sentence put me up on some kind of terrorism watch list.
It was a bit of a chore setting up Santa, in the same way that a Class 5 hurricane is a bit of a breeze. I had to drive spikes into the ground to hold the fan in place, then screw in anchors and hook cords to them, which kept Santa from blowing over in the wind or chasing women down the street.
In recent years, thanks to my famous ability to kill off growing things, pretty much the entire front yard has been a big patch of dirt. During an Indiana autumn this translates into a big patch of mud, so I did all that securing while trying to keep Santa from getting the lowbrow version of a mud bath. To this day, at least two of my shoes are buried under the surface.
Now, the excuse I use for canceling my front yard Christmas is that Emily planted grass in the front yard – which she did – and that it’s growing very well but is still young and easily damaged – which it is. But it’s still an excuse. Here’s the real truth behind the death of Santa:
Santa started getting old.
His belly light burned out, leaving him a shadowy figure hovering by the tree that I never trim for fear of killing it. I could never seem to get ice off his hat or upraised arm, and as a result he seemed to lean forward menacingly. The “Ho Ho Ho” banner became twisted and unreadable, and at times seemed to spell out threats. The fan made woeful moaning noises.
I didn’t always save Santa from the mud bath. He was a dirty Santa, and I just couldn’t get the grime from his now stained and gray beard, and streaked coat. Frankly, Santa was starting to look like a menacing bum, waiting to mug any unsuspecting elf who might pass by.
On a bad day ice would form on his brow, making his face crush down into a menacing sneer. When the ice melted, trickles of mud would run down his face, making him look like a zombie.
He was Scary Santa.
Instead of pointing him out to their kids as they drove by, parents would put their hands over their children’s eyes until they passed. Kids walking home from school would cross the street so as not to be too close. At night police officers would slow down and shine their lights on Scary Santa – did he just move? Or was it the wind?
The final straw was when my new neighbors put up a brand new, clean, undamaged inflatable decoration of their own: a big green Christmas tree upon which hangs – yep – another Santa. Santa being depantsed by a dog, but still.
Maybe my Santa can be salvaged; maybe there’s some way to clean that vinyl material, but I know my history, and for me a special effort to clean delicate materials usually ends the same way my attempts to fix plumbing end – with still more damage, accompanied by blood. This Santa was starting to look as though he might like blood.
Maybe someday he’ll be back. For now, I’ve left Scary Santa in the basement, draped gracefully over a stack of other stuff I was never able to fix. Just lying there.
Suddenly I’m overwhelmed by the desire to blockade the door to my basement.