Grandpa’s House – Santa Facial


An extension on the Grandpa’ Wallet series, this is a picture/memory I have previously mentioned I would return to describe.

It was the tradition when I was a little boy – here three years old in 1957 – to visit my Grandparents’ house in Elk Horn, Iowa, with the rest of the Carlson family on Christmas Eve. We would always return home that night to Omaha [just across the state line into Nebraska] to have Christmas morning there, enjoying another tradition of sharing a smorgasbord for breakfast/lunch. I won’t have appreciated then, as I do now, how hard my mother will have worked preparing everything around all of this.


Another tradition on Christmas Eve was that Santa Claus would visit. In the second of these pictures of that happening, I would appear to be amazed and delighted. I am sure I was, but this is not the salient memory I have.

Before I get to that, it is hilarious – for a number of reasons – that it never occurred to me that there was something amiss in the fact my Dad would always disappear for a short space of time and therefore miss Santa’s arrival, returning in surprise after Santa’s eventual departure to say he had seen him leaving on his sleigh, or at least hearing sleigh bells ringing as he was flying away.

The other reason is the mask. The memory I do recall with intensity is the one occasion I got too close to Santa’s face and immediately burst into tears because it was so grotesque. I think the whole plastic fakeness will have been enough to strike terror at such a moment of apocalypse, but it will also have been the shock created in that happy and naive expectation by the brutal reality of what I suddenly saw.

I presume it could be the time when the first picture was taken because my face is turned away from the camera. The stare on the Santa face as he enters the room is terrifying. I wonder if it is just after this when I became haunted? I do seem mesmerised and completely fooled by it all in the second: had I completely forgotten about the other visual assault? I am pleased about that latter happiness. I have no problem with the joy of such childhood innocence. The fact this all took place in the warm comfort of my Grandparents’ home, surrounded by a loving family [in the first picture I am sitting on my Uncle Glenn’s lap, and I will write about him too at some stage], is such a solid and fundamental root of the happiness I did have – if not always – in growing up.

I have kept both of these photos quite large for this posting to exemplify the scariness of Santa who clearly hasn’t aged. In this one I have just received my present – here at 5 years old in 1959 – and Santa is about to give one to my cousin who I guess isn’t crying at this time either.


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