By Ron Waywell
Sammy Wilson was never one to miss out on a new experience, but on this latest occasion, he little knew that he would be involved in a domestic crisis.
When he retired as Head of Willow Lane Primary School, he still kept in touch. He went to all the school concerts and, after his wife died, was always invited to join the staff at Christmas Dinner. But this year was different.
"Sammy," said the Head, "I wonder if you could help us out? You know Mrs Baxters husband always does Santa Claus. Well, hes had a heart attack. Perhaps you knew? No, hes getting better, but I was just wondering ."
"Me play Santa Claus, you mean?" Sammy was intrigued. "Now, thats a thought."
"Well, its six or seven years since you retired, so the kids wont recognise you. Its at the Christmas Fair a week before we break up. Go on. Have a go. Id appreciate it."
So Sammy found himself in the Staff Room with the schools Santa outfit, a pair of overlarge Wellington boots, and an ominous-looking crepe-hair beard. Mrs. Benson, one of the parents, helped him to dress. They were old friends; shed also helped him form his PTA twenty years earlier.
"Hows Lucy these days?" he asked as she held out the red cloak. "I always had a sort of soft spot for that lass of yours. Her little boy will soon be ready for school himself, wont he?"
"Youre out of date, Sammy," replied Mrs Benson. "He already comes here. Hes nearly seven, can you believe? Lucys here too. Shes going to help on the bookstall while I look after David."
"Can you hold the mirror? Who made this beard, for Gods sake? It smells awful."
"Look. Sit down. Ill fix it for you. It only needs a bit of Copydex."
As Sammy was gradually transformed into a passable Father Christmas, he brought himself up to date.
"No," he said, "I must admit, when I heard she married one of the Franklands, I was a bit surprised. She and Tommy were always quarrelling in class. But he wasnt a bad lad. Not the brightest, perhaps, but at least hes holding down a job."
"Of course, youll see him at the Infirmary. That Hospital Radio you do. Come to mention it, hes said hes seen you."
"Aye, he certainly polishes those corridors. Bore me to tears doing that all day, but he seems to like it. Hes a cheerful lad. I see him most weeks." Sammy laughed. "Always the same Hello, Mr Wilson. And then that cheeky grin. Just like at school."
Sammy adjusted his hood, posed in front of the mirror and tried a tentative "Ho! Ho! Ho!" And then, "Are you spending Christmas with them as usual?"
Mrs Benson didnt answer for a moment but, at last, she said, " Well, its not quite as easy this year "
Sammy looked round and saw her face. "Why? Is something wrong?"
"Look. You had better ask them. Im keeping out of it. But shes a silly girl. Ive told her. Anyway, its their business, I suppose."
Sammy didnt press. Only, "Come to think of it, Tommy has been a bit quieter lately. Mmmmmm!"
"Anyway. Come on. Get your sack. Theyll be opening the Fair in five minutes. Were still using that old computer room near the Lower Junior corridor. You know the one. Miss Logans made a lovely grotto again. Im bringing David later."
Sammy was delighted with the room. The Infants teacher had lined the walls with silver foil covered with gold and red stars, and there was lots of greenery about. There was a magnificent Christmas tree on a small decorated platform, and the place smelled pleasantly of pine needles. Santas throne was draped in red velvet.
Sammy sat down happily. He had been provided with a sack of small presents and was eager to begin work Grinning, he said "Ho! Ho! Ho! Let battle commence!"
He had barely settled in when there was a buzz of voices down the corridor as eager parents homed in on the Christmas Fair. Doors open, he thought. Now for it.
There was a knock, and Miss Logan put her face round the door. "Mr. Wilson? It is Mr Wilson, isnt it? My! You do look grand. Im your receptionist for the afternoon. Theyre queuing up out here. Are you ready? Best of luck!"
Admittance to the Grotto was confined to Infants children, and they came in while their parents waited outside. Sammy was in his element, and most of the little visitors soon lost their shyness. As the afternoon progressed Sammy honed his technique, soothing the teary ones, discouraging the beard-pullers, and coping with: "Youre Mr Baxter, arent you?" from the blasé ones.
The conveyor belt was working nicely when David entered the room. Sammy had seen him occasionally over the years and immediately recognised the ingenuous blue eyes and rather stubborn china perfect amalgam of his two former pupils.
Sammy held out his hand, and the boy came shyly forward. "Hello, David," said Sammy, much to Davids amazement. Father Christmas knew his name! Delighted at the boys wonder, Sammy piled it on: "David Frankland, isnt it? Come and talk to Santa."
There was a strange earnestness about the boy, which was rather puzzling, and Sammy skipped most of his usual preliminaries. Eventually he said, "Now, young man, tell me. What would you like for Christmas?"
The boy stood there for a moment, eyes downcast, and then muttered, "Ah want me Dad back."
Sammy thought hed misheard. "You what? What did you say, David?"
"Ah want me Dad back." The boys voice was even lower.
Sammy looked down at the little bowed head and then lifted the boys chin with a gentle finger. "Who told you to say that, love?" he asked
The boys blue eyes filled with tears. " Me Mam."
"I thought so," said Sammy, and he ruffled the boys hair gently. "Thats all right, laddie, dont worry." He pictured the boys mother standing before him as a student, with that obstinate look in her eyes. Lucy, he thought, youre a naughty girl, using David like that. He sighed inwardly. So theyre split up. These youngsters nowadays.
But the boy was getting restless, so Sammy said, "But what else do you want, just for you?"
Davids relief was evident. "A computer game," he said. And then he added, " But I want me Dad too."
"Well," said Sammy, now impatient to finish with Santa. "Well see what we can do. But heres a small present to be going on with." He dipped into his sack. "Now, be a good boy and off you go."
Sammy was glad to finish that afternoon. He disrobed quickly, peeled the Copydex from his face, then set out for the school hall. The parents were dismantling the stalls and sweeping up the debris. Sammy spotted Lucy at the far side of the hall and marched over. Lucy saw him coming, pretended she hadnt, and tried to escape. Shed obviously been quizzing her little boy.
"No you dont, young lady," Sammy commanded. "I want a word with you."
"Oh, hello, Mr Wilson," Lucys chin came up as she prepared to brave it out.
"Yes, you know, dont you. That was a silly thing to do. Kids cant think things like that up on their own. Now, whats all this about? You and Tommy?"
"Im sorry, Mr Wilson, but its hardly your business, if you dont mind my saying so."
"But youve made it my business with that silly trick. Come on now."
Lucy struggled, and then accepted the offer with relief. "Ive chucked him out, thats all. Hes back at his mothers. But Im fed up. He wont listen. Well, you know what hes like, Mr. Wilson. Hes just daft. He gets with that crowd at the Club and comes home at all hours. Blind drunk often as not. We cant afford it, sir. Here I am, working all hours God sends, and hes blowing it all. Oh, hes sorry afterwards. Tries it on with those doggie eyes. Its not the first time, Mr Wilson, believe you me. But Im too soft. Hes a daft sod, thats all . Sorry, Mr Wilson."
Sammy couldnt help but smile at the swear word and the apology. "But you want him back. Thats it, isnt it?"
Lucy stood there with that defiant look, and for a moment Sammy was back in the classroom. Then her shoulders sagged. "Well, you might as well know. I did offer to take him back, but he told me to get lost. Not in those words though. Well, Ive finished. Im not asking again."
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Look, sir, Im sorry about David, but I knew you worked at the Infirmary. Tommy admires you. He often says hes seen you. I suppose I thought you might . I can see its a daft idea now. Sorry."
Sammy half-smiled. "Two sorrys in one day. You are improving, Lucy. But Im not going to see Tommy. As you say, thats your business. But I know, young lady. It wont be all one-sided. Youre a bright lass. Much brighter than that husband of yours. But Ill tell you what you can do. Look, theyve still got to cash up. Go and ask the Head for some paper. Go into the staff room and write a letter. Send it Care of the Infirmary. Or send it to his mothers. English was always your best subject. Put it all down. Tell him how you feel. Now, be a sensible girl, OK?"
Lucy tightened her lips, and then: "I cant do that Mr Wilson. Hes had his chance. Its up to him. If you wont . Sorry you were involved."
Sammy looked at her for a long moment. Then he gently touched her shoulder. "No. Its up to you, lass. Anyway, all the best for Christmas to all of you."
And then he went home.
Sammy received the usual batch of cards that year. But there was one he resolved to keep. It was a picture of Father Christmas and on the inside the conventional seasons wishes. But in addition:
Thanks for the good advice, Mr Wilson. Love from Lucy and Tommy. With a special kiss from David. Copyright 2001, Ron Waywell
About the Author
Ron is 80 years old and served with the British Army in India (and Ceylon) during World War II. He retired from the teaching profession in 1985 and, following his wife's death shortly afterwards, took up creative writing as a hobby. Since then he has had short stories and poetry published and broadcast. The North West Network of the B.B.C has broadcast seventeen of his stories.
Ron Waywell passed away at the age of 86 in 2008. Return to the Archive Return to Current Issue Return to Rational Magic Home