‘Tis the season to try to escape the cold weather, so should it have been a surprise to us to find Santa Claus living right next door to us in Sarasota, Florida? We left
cold,snowy Pennsylvania shortly after Christmas, and settled into the winter months of living where the temperatures range from the 30’s to the 80’s. It didn’t take us long to realize that when the temperatures plummet at home they do here also. The difference is they don’t drop nearly as low and besides, as winter weather levels off to a moderate normality in the 20’s the normal here ranges in the comfortable 70’s during the day time and 50’s-60’s at night.
Well, getting back to Santa Claus. A few weeks after our arrival here, an R.V. pulled into the lot next to us. We were getting neighbors! Sometimes travelers stop here at this R.V. Park and stay only over night or for a few days, but this new neighbor’s intentions were the same as ours, to miss the cold weather up north. We watched as their rig was backed into place along a concrete slab that would serve as their patio and wondered who they were. “And much to our wondering eyes did appear” a man with a white beard and long, white hair, who fit perfectly the appearance of the one in the red suit who arrives every Christmas time throughout the world. But this was Florida and if I remember correctly, the legend has it that Santa Claus hails from the cold north, at the North Pole where he keeps his toy shop in operation and feeds and cares for his reindeer.
We’ve seen other men who, as they age, prefer to let their white hair and beards grow, but not always do they “fit the bill” as Santa. This mythical figure, is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white bearded man with spectacles, wearing a red coat, red trousers, black leather belt and boots. We were still watching the man next store from our window and it became apparent that he was wearing red, a red T-shirt and baseball cap and imprinted on it were the words, “Santa On Vacation.”
Once they were settled in here, we made our way next door to get acquainted and learned that Jack Senterfitt and his wife, Trisha, have a home in the mountains of Georgia, in the foothills of the Appalachians, in a town called, Cherry Log. They had left behind snow with temperatures in the teens and, yes, he is “Santa On Vacation.” Actually, Jack was a civil trial lawyer and since his retirement he is having the time of his life. He started playing the role of Santa about twelve years ago. Now, as he basks in the sunshine and relaxes by the pool, the question most kids ask is “where are your reindeer?” He has no problem getting around without them and travels in a red, hard top, convertible which he says is his wife’s car. Trisha, by the way, often plays the part of Mrs. Claus and fits the role perfectly with her lovely smile and love for kids.
Jack’s daughter says he has more hair products than she does. He admits he does whatever is necessary to keep his natural red color from appearing in his beard. He remembered how when his grandson became eleven years old, and kids gathered around his grandfather, he would say, “That’s not Santa Claus, that’s Pop.”
Jack never works in Malls. He said the appearance of Santa there is big business. He’s only paid enough to cover his expenses and oftentimes volunteers his work. He recalled how some parents have taken him aside to tell him that their children were misbehaving and would he tell them to straighten-up or Santa would not visit their home? Jack refuses to honor these requests. He said one boy was feeling so badly about himself that he told Santa to give anything he was planning to give him to another child. Some children come ready to check out his authenticity and look for the strap holding on his beard. One child pulled on his beard and said, “It’s really you.”
He is welcomed in nursing homes, does parties for foster children, and those who are terminally ill. He went to Honduras to learn Spanish so he could converse with Hispanic children in the area. He has not been to the North Pole, not even North Pole, New York, but he is planning a two month trip to Alaska where he will visit North Pole there. No, when this Santa is off duty, he heads South. “I believe in making wishes and having faith that they can come true.” Jack said. I asked him if he considered himself an actor, he replied, “ Well, I was a lawyer!!” We laughed together, just like you would with the jolly, old elf, himself.
Don’t miss the photos below.