I grew up with singer/actor/cowboy Gene Autry, thanks to my late father, Autry's most dedicated fan.
So naturally, we had all of Autry's records, including his Christmas albums. And while the "Singing Cowboy" was most famous for singing the original and the most popular version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the second biggest-selling Christmas song of all time ("White Christmas" is No. 1), it was Autry's "I Wish My Mom Would Marry Santa Claus" that was my favorite. "Rudolph" was a close second.
The lyrics intrigued me:
"Oh, I wish my mom would marry Santa Claus/Then he'd be in the family/I'd like him 'round, you see/To help my mommy decorate the Christmas tree.
"I wish my mom would marry Santa Claus/Then I'd know he would always stay/And we could always play with the toys/I get on Christmas Day."
How cool would it be to be married to Santa Claus, I thought.
For many years when my children were growing up, my father rented a Santa suit and played the role at our extended family Christmas party. Until each child was old enough to recognize his voice, they thought he was the real Santa. It was special to me to see my father as Santa.
Years later, when my own granddaughter, Tilleigh, turned 2, my husband Hank continued the family tradition of playing Santa Claus. Tilleigh's birthday is one week before Christmas, so Santa Hank is the guest of honor at her birthday party every year. She will be 7 on Dec. 18.
Santa Hank has become a big deal with Tilleigh, her sister, Evie, 3, and every child who comes to Tilleigh's birthday parties. Santa visits with each child, poses for photograph, and gives everyone a gift bag filled with treats. He sticks around for about an hour before heading back to the North Pole.
Hank takes his Santa role seriously. He purchased a Santa suit about three years ago and, every August, he starts growing a beard. By December, his snow-white beard is thick and his curly white hair hangs below his ears. He totally morphs into Santa Claus.
It was only last year that Tilleigh realized Santa was her grandfather. When she questioned me about it, I did what any good grandparent would do. I lied. I made up an elaborate "story" about Hank (our grandchildren call him "Boo") traveling to the North Pole to train as an official Santa helper. It was such a good story, I found myself believing it.
It was last year, while watching my husband enthusiastically playing the role of Santa, that I realized my favorite Gene Autry song had come to life. I married Santa Claus. And in every way he is Santa Claus. He is the most generous man I know and he is dedicated to our grandchildren.
And the best part? He'll always stay, and always play, with the toys our grandchildren get on Christmas day.
Very cool, indeed.
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6396.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...