IT WAS CHRISTMAS 1985; it was a rare occasion for my father to see us those days. However, he was separated from Suzy now and back living with Gramma and Grandpa for the time being, so Mom, feeling the holiday spirit, agreed to let Dad take us for the afternoon. We were at the Seneca Mall, where my grandfather had played Santa for years. It was always tremendous to go to the mall where Grandpa was playing Santa to see him. He loved doing it; he was the perfect Santa too: thinning white hair that perfectly blended in with the wig and beard, about six foot tall and a belly that would make the real Santa proud. The mall was bustling with holiday shoppers as it was only two weeks before the big day. There was a line of kids to see him at least thirty to forty deep, a line that would even make Ralphie from A Christmas Story cringe. My grandmother was also in the mall, doing some shopping for us kids, no doubt. We were sitting in the center concourse of the mall, watching the shoppers go by and taking a break while Renee fed Anthony a bottle when a commotion broke out, and people started screaming. My father told us to stay put while he went to see what was going on. At that very minute, we saw my grandmother running down the concourse screaming for my father to come help. We all got up and started running; even my sister was sprinting down the concourse with the baby in her arms. As we got closer to Center Court, where the mall had set up the Santa display, we could see parents consoling their distraught children. We arrived at Center Court to see mall security attending to my grandfather, who had collapsed, falling out of his chair to the floor right there at Center Court in front of all those kids! It was surreal. The paramedics would arrive shortly after we arrived at the scene and took over from mall security. My father and grandmother were standing by my grandpa’s side, who was now on a stretcher; his wig and beard had been removed, but he was still in his Santa suit. My brother, sister, and I were standing off to the side, and my sister was sobbing, holding Anthony as tightly as she could. I can remember a stranger come up to us and ask if we needed help. We politely declined. My grandfather was transported to the hospital by the paramedics, and my father took us kids home. We later learned that grandpa had suffered a stroke right there at Center Court in front of all those poor kids. My grandfather would make a modest recovery, but there was damage to his one side just as there was damage to the kids who witnessed his collapse. My grandfather’s stroke at the Seneca Mall and his subsequent death years later had a deep impact on me for years. It was one of those great life lessons that we must all endure. The first great loss of a loved one is always the hardest to take, or so I’m told. The start of my grandfather’s illness, the stroke, which took place in such a public and shocking venue, left me scared as I felt great guilt for the children that witnessed his collapse. To this day I can’t look at a mall Santa without a tinge of sadness. There was no forgiveness to be asked for, only acceptance of what transpired with a prayer that those children learned the true meaning of Christmas that day.
You can now order your copy of I, Rob Graves from a local independent bookstore.