Cook: How many Santas tell a good fish story?

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011

Santa Claus is back in town. I know, I know ó we havenít celebrated Thanksgiving yet. But Santas canít wait until late November to set the Christmas wheels into motion.
The Santaís helper Iím talking about is H.C. Daniels, a longtime employee of the Salisbury Postís advertising department who caught Santa fever nearly 40 years ago while he was out picking up ads.
Mostly retired now, H.C. shared his story several weeks ago but asked me not to write about it yet. He wanted to be in town when the story came out, and he was going on a fishing trip.
On the day of his scheduled return, he left me a voice message saying heíd gotten in trouble for catching too many fish and would have to stay at the beach longer.
That was a joke, of course ó typical of H.C. He always has a joke to tell, even on voicemail.
So Santa H.C. Claus is back and ready for action. Heíll start next Sunday, talking to good little boys and girls ó and bad ones, too ó next Sunday afternoon, Nov. 26, at Godleyís Garden Center and Nursery on Statesville Boulevard.
Like a kid, heís been looking forward to the season ever since last Dec. 25.

It all started in 1972. H.C. went by Stallings Baptist Church to pick up an ad, and someone asked him to try on the pants of a Santa suit. One leg at a time, he got talked into playing Santa at the church Christmas party with 25 to 30 kids.
Ho, ho, ho. He was hooked ó but with a hitch.
Later that night, a church member called H.C. at home to relay a comment from one of the children.
A little girl had concluded that he was not a real Santa Claus ó not even a real Santa Claus helper. How did she know that? ěBecause he was wearing loafers,î she reportedly said.
H.C. took the message to heart. ěFrom then on, I wore boots.î
One appearance led to another, and the Santa business ěkind of snowballed on me,î H.C. said. Pun intended.
He doesnít do malls, but he has appeared in churches, private homes, industrial plants, banks, Red Hat Club meetings and even at Spencer Park, where the holiday mood is set with the lighting of candles. ěThatís something else to see,î he said. I swear there was a twinkle in his eye.
He has taken part in the Faith Fourth of July parade. And he has donned his Santa suit for gigs as far away as Kannapolis and Cooleemee.
H.C. is on his third Santa suit, by the way. The complete ensemble ó jacket, pants, beard, cap and leggings ó runs from $400 to $600, he said.
A small price to pay for what he receives in return. He sees childrenís eyes light up in joy and anticipation.
ěI get a thrill out of it,î H.C. said. ěIt gives me the Christmas spirit.î

A couple of years ago, according to H.C., the Catawba College presidentís assistant called to arrange a Santa visit to the campus. H.C. expected to see 25-30 people, college folks being the sophisticates that they are.
To his surprise, about 325 people showed up in the gym to prove they were not too big to have their picture taken on Santaís lap, H.C. said.
From a man prone to tell fish stories, that number may seem suspect, perhaps a bit of hyperbole. But on serious things, Iíve found H.C. to be a man of his word, and he is seriously in love with playing Santa. The rewards are great and the kidsí comments are fun.
Besides, this kind of seasonal work leaves him plenty of time to go fishing.
Ho, ho, ho. Heís hooked on that, too.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post. You can reach H.C. Daniels at 704-279-3421.