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Every Christmas, our Fraternal Order of Police post would hold a Christmas party on the Saturday the week before Christmas. It was for the children of our officers. The highlight, even more than the gifts, was the appearance of Santa Claus. Since we could never get the actual Santa to show up, we went with the next best thing. Sgt. Russ Reiterman. He was from the police department just north of ours.

If there ever was anyone made to be Santa Claus, it was Russ. He was a larger-than-life character. A booming voice you could hear a mile away, heavier than he should be, although perfect for Santa. A great laugh and a heart of gold. I used to think of him as a “Big teddy-bear.” He had a reputation as an excellent officer. I witnessed that firsthand when we worked auto theft together for two years. Russ was in charge of the county auto theft unit.

I worked our dayshift patrol. Just as I was about to call out for lunch, dispatch asked that I return to the station. I parked in front of the station. As I got out of my car, I saw Santa Russ in his full suit waving at me from behind the double glass doors. As I opened the door and walked inside. Santa grabbed me around my waist and lifted me off the ground.

“Richard, how’s my favorite sergeant?”

“Set me down and I will tell you.”

I should mention I am six feet tall and back then weighed one hundred ninety pounds. So not exactly small or lightweight. That’s how strong he was.

My boss was on the desk laughing his butt off. When he stopped laughing, he said,

“Hey Richard. How would you like to drive this guy around town and then drop him off at the Christmas party?”

“Seriously lieutenant?”

“Yep, the Chief was up here when Russ mentioned it to him. He loved the idea. You should feel honored. Russ specifically asked for you.”

Russ wrapped his arm around me. “We will have a good time.”

“How could I say no? Let me rephrase that. I couldn’t say no. That’s what the Chief wanted.”

I looked at the LT and Russ. “I am ready.”

Lt. Burtwell said, “Not so fast, Richard. The chief asked me to give this to you and tell you he wants it worn at all times while with Santa Russ.”

He handed me a green and red elf hat. People might think I was embarrassed and did not want to wear an elf hat. Just the opposite. I knew I was going to have fun with Russ. The hat just added a bit more fun.

“Excuse me, my assistant elf. As soon as you get your uniform elf hat on, I could use a little help. Santa will need a hand loading, a few things into your car.” Russ pointed to a cart with ten boxes and a huge red bag on it.

So, there was Santa and his assistant elf rolling the cart down the ramp in front of the station and to my car. I knew it was going to be a fun day. The city library was across from the police station. Looked like they had some type of children’s reading program that day. Car after car pulled into the parking lot.

“Alright, my assistant elf, let’s go wish the little ones a Merry Christmas.”

Santa told me to bring a box. I opened the ten-pound box to get ready and inside was a large clear bad filled with little chocolate Santas. As we were walking up, every little kid came running towards us with parents right behind. All you could hear was the roar of “Santa.” It did not take long to be surrounded by happy kids. I passed out the candy and watched Santa Russ work his magic with the kids. After making sure every child received some candy. Santa Russ shouted in his best Santa voice----

“Merry Christmas. Now all of you go with your parents to the library.”

As quickly as they came, they were gone.

Walking back to my car. I looked over at Russ.

“I have known you for almost fifteen years. You were there when my kids were little. But I never knew what it was like watching you outside of the yearly kids’ Christmas party. I loved looking at those smiling faces. Their eyes were wide open, so amazed to see Santa Claus in the parking lot of the city library. I see why you have been playing Santa for a long time.”