For many years in Ireland, my best friend was a chap named Geoffrey. He played many important parts in our life (as referenced in a previous post) but our first meeting was a disaster.
We had a hall in the village which we used for all sorts of community events. One day we were having a Christmas party for the kids, complete with Santa. I suppose the event ran a bit longer than planned. We had more kids than anticipated and you do not turn anyone away from Santa. There was a bit of a commotion at the door and the next thing I know a bearded, red faced, fuming man comes toward me saying, “I understand you are in charge here”. I don’t know how I came to be in charge. I had provided the Santa suit, but that was the extent of my involvement. He had scheduled the hall for some high school students he was working with building those remote airplane models. Now, we didn’t pay for the use of the hall so I didn’t feel too guilty about making him wait. But he did seem a bit of a big bear of a man, and with a Northern accent yet. Not someone I would want to tangle with in other words. But beside him was the most angelic looking little girl. So I looked at her, smiled and said, “Would you like to see Santa honey?” and led her to the end of the line. I won that battle and steered clear of the man until all the kids were safely ushered through to see Santa.
A few weeks later, The Madame came to see me. (The Madame insertname was the wife of THE insertname. Ireland was a land of many tribes/kingdoms and THE was our way of saying Prince or Princess, I suppose.) She told me there was a wonderful glass artist who had been living in the village for some weeks now and she felt we should meet. He had married a local girl, a distant relative of mine, whom he had met over in England. I said that I would love to meet him and where could I find him. The Madame knew people said things and then they never happened – he was in the car waiting for permission to come in. In walked the bear of a man, followed by his wife and two daughters. He and I just burst out laughing.
We spent the next couple of hours talking and it was like we had known each other forever. Geoffrey was from the North originally and still had a large glass studio up there which he went to every few weeks. But since he had married my distant cousin, Margaret, it was easier to live in the Republic as Geoffrey was a Protestant and she was a Catholic. Their oldest daughter, Paula, became my babysitter and their youngest, Natalie became my son’s playmate and frequent thorn in my side. Ah, the little girl I had led to see Santa. She looked like a fairy princess and she knew it. So she walked like a princess, talked like a princess, and expected you to treat her as such. Our friendship didn’t grow. It just instantly WAS. We opened an art gallery together. We exhibited in shows all over the country together. One day I commented on how Geoffrey was so much more organized about the paperwork ends of things than I was. I said that it was probably because he had a wife so I tuned toward Margaret and said, “Would you be my wife, too?”. Happily for me, she accepted and after that she took care of finding venues, booking shows, handling sales, and so on for both of us. And then there were the weekly Trivial Pursuit matches. One night a week, I made homemade pizza and they brought wine and we played into the wee hours. Margaret had to calm us down on many occasions as she was afraid either Geoffrey or I would have a stroke. It was a good thing I lived on a farm because the noise level would have brought the police in a residential area.
Then came our first Christmas together…
Knowing that I had a Santa suit, Geoffrey came to me one day and said he would love to come over on Christmas Eve, dressed as Santa, and deliver all the gifts for the kids. Geoffrey said he would be a great Santa because he could do a great American accent (he couldn’t) and in his mind, Santa was American – at least on the telly. Brigid was already a teenager, but Tony was only four so I thought it would be great fun. The night came, Santa arrived, Brigid made a big show of excitement, and Tony was… silent. He froze. Not one word. I couldn’t understand it as I had taken Tony for a picture with Santa each year since he was born and he had never shown any fear. Tony sat silently, looking very serious, for about five minutes after Geoffrey left. Then he came over to me and whispered, “I had no idea Geoffrey was Santa. But it all makes sense now. He has a beard and a jelly belly and a big laugh and a work shop up North”. I had to try very hard to keep myself from laughing. It had never occurred to him that Geoffrey was there wearing a Santa suit – he had discovered the true identity of Santa. Geoffrey was quite amused when I called him and told him the reason for the silence after Tony had gone to sleep. I wanted him to know right away because I knew he must have left very disappointed, figuring his visit had not made Tony happy. Tony and I ran into Geoffrey in the village the next morning. Geoffrey squatted down so they were at the same eye level. He put his finger aside of his nose, winked and said, “This is our little secret”. And very seriously, Tony nodded and winked. Which is why Tony believed in Santa a few years longer than most kids – after all, he knew him personally.