Holiday blues for the man in red

Bob Middlebrook shows the wish list of a believer. Sometimes the joy of being the man in red is tinged with sadness, he said.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Bob Middlebrook shows the wish list of a believer. Sometimes the joy of being the man in red is tinged with sadness, he said.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

The girl was doubtful, but desperate, so she took her case to the only person who could help.

Jerry Mecham of Kingston has spent the last 12 holiday seasons playing Saint Nick. He remembers her well, the gawky teenager waiting at the Kitsap Mall.

“Awfully old to be standing in line, but it happens.”

She said she wasn’t a believer, but just in case, the girl wanted a friend for Christmas.

“I’d really like to have a boyfriend, but that’s out of the question,” Mecham remembers the girl saying. “I’d settle for a friend.”

To believers, Santa is more than a man in a red suit, he’s a miracle worker, a way around naysaying parents.

But as all kids must eventually come to terms with what didn’t arrive under the Christmas tree, Santa has to come to terms with hopes he can’t hope to fulfill.

The reason the girl didn’t have a friend to speak of?

“Because I’m so ugly,” the girl said.

“I almost started bawling,” Mecham said. “It almost killed me.”

Most visits to Santa’s lap don’t end with Santa nearly brought to tears.

In fact, sometimes Santa sees the same kids smiling into their teens when their parents drag them back to maintain the family’s photo collection.

But, sometimes believers petition Santa because they don’t have anywhere else to turn.

“They are trying to bypass everybody and go to the big guy,” said Bob Middlebrook of Poulsbo, who has played Santa for 33 years. He estimated that during the Santa season, about the first three weeks of December, he sees about 700 kids.

Middlebrook appears next on Saturday at the American Marine Bank on Bainbridge Island, 249 Winslow Way East. He’ll be receiving Christmas requests from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Families are asked to bring a can of food or a donation for Helpline House of Bainbridge Island.

When a believer asks Santa to find dad a job or bring mom back home, Santa has to tread carefully.

“You never promise they’ll be back and everything will be wonderful,” Middlebrook said.

He’s played Santa in an impoverished area of New Mexico where some kids ask Santa for food or a bed for their brother.

“It bothers me,” said Middlebrook, who has spent his own money to buy photos for kids who couldn’t pay.

He’s heard more desperate requests this year than in other years. Middlebrook, who runs Sound Works Job Center in Poulsbo, thinks it’s the economy putting stress on families.

“It trickles down to the kids,” he said.

Mecham hasn’t heard requests for dad to find a job, which surprises him, but he has heard from kids who have a parent overseas in the military.

“I tell them everybody is praying for them and all the prayers are going to help.”

It’s a common refrain from Santa, something no kid wants to hear: He can’t make any guarantees, and not just for unfeasible requests.

“I never tell them they are going to get it,” said Mecham, who has a special explanation for why Santa can’t deliver puppies and kittens. To spare a kid from losing faith, he keeps answers vague unless he has some indication parents can make the request happen.

“I say, ‘We’ll see what we have up there,’” Mecham said.

Middlebrook said protecting that belief is part of Santa’s job.

“I believe in Santa Claus,” he said. “Many people carry that into adulthood. It’s a belief in hope and charity and stuff like that.”

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