The old Methodist Church in Marysville Kansas was a large part of our social life back when I was a kid. Even practicing for the Sunday School Christmas play and carol sing was a thrill, back in the days before television dominated our lives. And all we Sunday School children knew that if we were good, if we played our parts and sang our carols well, Santa Claus would visit church after the Sunday service nearest Christmas.
After church, some of the people went outside to smoke. Others, ladies mostly, went downstairs to begin serving pot luck dinner. Mom and Grandma always brought fried chicken and some sort of dessert. Everything was made from scratch in those days. No KFC or deli cole slaw, no store-bought cakes or pies. Mom often made mayonnaise cake -- a rich, chocolate cake with fudge frosting. Grandma's old standby recipe was her world famous frosted molasses creams. I always made sure to sit with Grandpa. He knew ALL the best things to eat. He'd help me fill my plate, starting with Mom's or Grandma's fried chicken because he said theirs was the best. Finally, he'd say, "That oughta hold me over for awhile." That was the familiar signal to take my empty plate to the kitchen and go sit with Mom and Grandma. The most exciting part of the day was at hand. Santa Claus would soon arrive!!
The Methodist Church Santa was a tall man with twinkling blue eyes. He called all the children by name while handing out bags of candy, nuts, apples, and oranges. The genuinely happy sound of his laugh, the deep timbre of his voice, and the smell of his whiskers was comforting and familiar. When it came my turn to sit on Santa's lap and tell him my secret Christmas wishes, I wanted to snuggle in against him and take a nap. Mom always whisked me away before I could nod off.
Guess I was too young back then to realize why Santa seemed so familiar and comforting to me. Grandpa Ford was the quintessential Santa. He played his part to perfection and loved Christmas as much as any child. My grandpa loved Christmas and playing Santa almost as much as he loved me.