Jon de Vos: No way Santa survived the fall |

Jon de Vos: No way Santa survived the fall

I was a Mighty Jackrabbit in my senior year at Mesa High School in Arizona. The jackrabbit was the school mascot. We threw in the “mighty” to lend some dignity, but it didn’ t help much. “The Mesa Bunnies” just didn’t carry the same panache as The North High Lions or The Mansfield Warriors.

The Mesa Chamber of Commerce threw an extravagant Christmas party in those days. It was held in Pioneer Park, a large downtown park on Main Street, right across from the Mormon temple. The park is dedicated to the early Latter Day Saints that settled that desert valley oasis.

My parents had verbally shackled me to my two younger siblings for the day.

The party always started with hot dogs and root beer and ended with a visit from Santa, handing out toys and candies for little Mesa kids. No boring sleigh bells for this Santa, he bailed out of an airplane, parachuting into a cleared circle in the middle of the park. Then he’d wiggle out of his harness, straighten his beard and pass out small toys and candies with a jolly “Ho, Ho, Ho,” before being whisked away by his extraction team. He usually left a slugfest in his wake, as tough little Mesa farm kids battled over the goodies.

All eyes were upon the skies as we waited impatiently for Santa’s red-nosed airplane to deliver the goods. Two o’ clock came and went and the mood of the crowd, whose average age was about 6, went from anxious to unruly and quickly slipped into surly. Just before things turned really ugly, the whine of a low-flying plane saved the day. Look! Up in the sky! Wave to Santa, kids! Hey! Look! And everyone did look, only to see a couple of guys tossing Santa out of the plane. And he began to fall.

His red suit blurred into a tightening spiral, faster and faster, he plummeted downward like a rocket, no hint of a parachute. People began to scream, he’s way off course, he’s gonna hit the street, look out, lots of oh’s and so forth.

Santa hit the pavement with a resounding whump just off the curb of Main Street and burst into a blizzard of flying red parts. His head bounced like a horror movie through the gape-mouthed pre-schoolers. Horrified drivers screeched to miss red-suited limbs and there rose a unified gasp from the crowd. For several seconds there was utter, stunned silence before a tiny wail of woe grew to a deafening howl of anguish from the throats and hearts of a couple 100 5-year-olds. Santa clearly wasn’t coming back from this one.

The moment defined pandemonium. Santa, poor Santa, lay in tattered pieces strewn over half a block, his suit horribly split open spewing out … crumpled up newspapers?

The explanation had to wait until the next morning on the front page of the Mesa Tribune. Parachuting Santa had shown up for work too drunk to walk. The Mesa Chamber of Commerce, having no readily available executive director to throw out of a plane, perhaps in too much haste, stuffed a Santa suit with newspapers and a mannequin head. Their intention was to toss the dummy out a couple of blocks off course, pulling the ripcord as it left the plane.

Live Santa would be driven to the spot where the dummy landed and the dummy would be quickly dispatched into the trunk. Live Santa would then run toward the park with all godspeed and good cheer. It was a good plan, perhaps a great plan, but, improperly buckled, Santa’s whole parachute came off as he left the plane, leaving him to fall to his untimely demise before a tender and impressionable audience.

Happy Holidays. Buckle up. Try not to be the dummy this year.

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