Of Jolly Old Elves
It’s Santa season and time to revisit St. Nick, or at least two of his favorite helpers—Bob Crawford and Joe Warren.
Remember Santa on our December 2002 cover with little Ford Lockyer bending his ear? Well, Ford is now in prep school and Bob and his reindeer have set up shop at McArdle’s. (You can also catch him Sundays at Bergdorf’s.) This savvy Santa always has a pocketful of raisins in case a reindeer gets grumpy. “It works good with them,” he says.
What’s the biggest request these days? “Legos,” says the retired Greenwich electrician. And in his thirty-four-year run on the world’s biggest gig, he’s learned to field every question.
“A little girl saw me in my fishin’ boat at the dock and said, ‘What are you doin’ here?’ I said, ‘Where am I supposed to be?’ She said, ‘The North Pole. Who’s makin’ all the toys if you’re down here?’ I explained that I don’t make toys. The elves do. I was down here because Mrs. Claus gave me a vacation because I was good.”
“Would you bring me a kitten?” they plead. “I can’t bring live animals because they’d make a mess of my sleigh,” replies Santa. Or: “I can’t carry enough food for them all. You’ll have to ask your mother and father.”
If they catch him someplace without his reindeer, they ask where they are. “The Greenwich Police won’t let me land ’em here,” he tells them, “because they take up too much room in the streets.” Or, “They’re magic. You can’t see ’em.”
Last year Bob asked a little girl who came to his sleigh what she wanted for Christmas. “Aw,” she said, “we can’t do Christmas. I’m Jewish.” Bob said: “That’s all right. I’ll light a candle for you on your menorah.” She got all excited: “You know about menorahs?!” “Of course I do,” he replied. Then she whispered in his ear, “Look, don’t tell anybody, but I believe.”
“My best reward is seeing the expression on a child’s face who still believes,” says Bob. “I’m the only one who sees that, and I see that quite a lot, you know.”
Joe Warren, a former selectman of Darien, has played Santa at the Darien Sport Shop for thirty-eight years and at the Greenwich Junior League’s Enchanted Forest for fifteen (for free).
Among favorite stories is the time he asked an adorable three-year-old sitting on his lap where she got those beautiful blue eyes. Her answer: “Bloomingdale’s!”
Another little girl about eight said, “Santa, all I want is for everybody to be happy.” Joe was some impressed. Later, as he climbed back on the fire engine to leave, she ran over and grabbed his sleeve: “Now Santa, Santa, do you remember what I want?” He said, “Yes Dear, you want everybody to be happy.” She replied, “That’s right. That’s what I want. That, and an iPad!”
Requests for pets are easy. “I tell’em they’re going to get it—and the parents are looking at me like ‘How dare you!’” Then he talks about the responsibilities. “‘Who’s going to take the dog out for a walk at night?’ The kid says, ‘I will.’ ‘How about when you’re sound asleep in bed?’ ‘Well, Mommy’ll have to do that.’ On it goes, until Santa says, ‘Maybe this year I’ll bring you a stuffed dog you can practice on until you’re older.’”
When children ask for things like a car or motorcycle, he convinces them that it’s no fun if they’re not allowed to use them. “Kids are very basic,” Joe observes. “If you give kids an answer they understand, they can live with that.”
If a child is timid, he’ll say, “Oh, look. Your sweater is red just like mine! Come a little closer so we can see if they match!”
To break the ice, Santa might ask where he should put the presents. One little boy said: “Well, Santa, Mommy and Daddy aren’t living together any more.” “So,” said Joe, “how about I put some toy cars under the tree at Mommy’s house and toy trucks at Daddy’s?” Problem solved, until the boy added, “And Uncle Harry wants some new socks and those go under the tree at Mommy’s house!”
“That mother couldn’t get that kid off my lap fast enough,” recalls Joe with a chuckle.
He ends every conversation with “Let’s make a deal. If I promise to do the very best I can to bring you what you want for Christmas, will you promise me that you’ll be happy with whatever I bring you?” Then they shake on it.
Joe’s three-year-old grandson Ben is very comfortable with the fact that Papa Joe is Santa Claus. Seeing him in civilian clothes, he calls him Papa Joe and in a red suit, Santa. Last Christmas Ben’s parents gave him a Thomas the Train set, saying it was from Santa. When Joe and his wife arrived for Christmas dinner, the little boy came flying over to his grandfather, so excited he was stuttering: “Just … just wait til you see what you brought me!”
“Nobody has more fun than I do,” says Joe, who whacks off ten-inches of his ponytail every two years to donate to Locks of Love. “Believe me, I’m the luckiest guy in the world that I get to do this.”
It’s a magical season.