Before we were taught to write in school, Mother worked with me on my penmanship. In first grade, Mother began teaching me how to write cursive so I’d be prepared for second grade.

In 1971 it was time to write the annual State Of The Union letter – my letter to Santa Claus – outlining my goodness for the year, and listing my wishes for Christmas. Mother thought it would be great if I would write mine in cursive to show Santa that I was ahead of schedule. I was uncertain that I could write an entire letter in cursive, but Mother devised a plan: I would print the original letter, she would copy my letter in cursive, and I would copy her cursive-letter in my own hand.

And this we did.

Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the door, and in walked the very familiar face of Jim King’s Santa.

Unbeknown to me, Mother had set a present on the porch for the “special delivery.” Mother had the 8mm movie camera rolling with the now-vintage Bell & Howell light bar blinding anyone within a 40-yard area.

After presenting me with my gift for good behavior for the year, he pulled from his pocket a very familiar looking envelope from which he pulled a letter. Santa began exclaiming how proud he was of me attempting cursive, and for the extraordinary penmanship for a first grader. While Cecil B. DeMom kept the camera rolling and the lights blaring, someone else snapped what would later become my infamous eye-roll.

Santa continued for what seemed to be an eternity, and finally departed, wishing one and all a wonderful Christmas… Jim King at his best!

The family festivities continued, and the room returned to a less blinding glow as Mother turned off lights that would have easily lit Wrigley Field. I was fascinated with one of my new gifts when I heard, “Darin Lee Jolliff….”

I looked up at Mother fearing the worst. I knew.

Mother was biting the corner of her lower lip. At age six, I knew this meant war. At age 46, I know this means Mother is trying to keep a straight face. What a difference forty years makes!

Mother shared with the rest of the family that I had not sent my copied letter to Santa… I had placed Mother’s hand-written letter in the envelope, and sealed it!

The 8mm film catches me turning my head slowly to peer at Mother as Jim King praised the penmanship. I, too, was biting my own lip, but out of “Oh shit! I got caught!” (And yes, that was probably my exact thoughts… little has changed in 40 years!).

I do not remember being reprimanded, but I am sure Mother shared a few thoughts at a later time. Uncle Ron and Uncle Tom, then 18 and 16, thought my deed quite classic.

That was an eventful Christmas Eve night… My uncles received fencing swords, Uncle Ron a brown leather coat, Mother a ring holder (from me) from Rhodes Jewelry Store (I bought Mother and Grandma Donna a collection of those plastic shapes with roses inside).

I got an electric train set which was promptly set up on the east side of the huge living/music room. Mother received a white hobnail lamp, packaged in excelsior packing, and I used some of the straw-like packing for the barn that went with my electric train set. I forgot to turn off my train when it was time to eat, and at some point the train ran off the track.

Someone smelled smoke…

It is a shame it was not the letter to Santa burning up on the track!

Merry Christmas, Mr. King, and thank you for fifty plus years of Santa-ing for so many of us in Elwood, Indiana…

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