No question too hard for mall Santa

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2003

Santa starts early at Selma Mall.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he is at Selma Mall during the Christmas season and works Saturdays from 9 to 5 p.m.

Santa estimates that he will see 30 to 50 children on an average day, and maybe even some senior adults.

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Saturday &045; the last Saturday before Christmas &045; was no exception.

The children who came to the mall to make their requests seemed to sense the urgency.

They wanted very badly to get those requests in before the big day.

Thomas Towns has been working in the role of Santa for 21 years now and loves it. Originally he was in New York City but moved South in 1972 &045; first to Tuscaloosa and then to Selma &045; where it was warmer.

It was so much warmer Saturday, in fact, that Santa had a fan turned on, keeping him cool in the multiple layers of his bright red-and-white costume.

The costume must be carefully maintained, what with all the travel he has to do and all the children who sit on his very large lap.

Santa says his costume costs in the neighborhood of $1,500-$2,000, and when there’s lots of movement about town during the Christmas season he has to have it cleaned weekly &045; sometimes daily.

Saturday, Santa’s day started at 9:30 in the morning.

There were quite a few mall walkers going through their paces; some stores were not yet even open.

But he likes to arrive early.

When Santa finally sat down in his big upholstered chair, it took no longer than one minute for children to materialize and to stand on line waiting their turn.

Children who find it difficult to master the idea of waiting their turn the other 364 days of the year just seem to intuitively understand it’s the thing to do if you want to see the fat man.

The first was a family with four children &045; five, including infant Justice who was strapped to the chest of his mother, April Smith, and sleeping quite contentedly.

The other children who each spoke with Santa were Patrick, 8, Tomia Fitts, 7, Demontae, 3, and Patryana, 2.

Santa handled the whole sequence very effectively and the children seemed delighted as they got down out of his lap and reached over into the grab bag of goodies.

Next came K-Markis Effinger, 4, who was accompanied by his grandmother Debra Effinger. K-Markis spoke very seriously to Santa and smiled a very big smile at the end of the intimate conversation.

After all, he had Santa all to himself. How special!

Santa said that he sees mainly infants and children through about age 10, then there’s a gap.

Not infrequently, older women want to sit in his lap and have their picture taken. Santa is glad to oblige them.

He figures it’s something about the suit.

Mrs. Claus, he adds, is understanding about the whole thing.

Like many Americans in these tight economic times,

Santa has more than one job.

It’s hard to make ends meet pulling a sleigh just one night a year.

In addition to fulfilling his duties as Santa, he also owns businesses and rental properties and is a master electrician, which enables him to make repairs on his sleigh en route to his many destinations and to take care of Rudolph’s nose.

His favorite activity remains just being himself.

He doesn’t even mind those naughty children who pull and grab, especially his beard.

All get gifts, and even the ones who are afraid, after they’ve gotten their special gift from Santa, seem content by the time they leave.

When Santa is not at Selma Mall he is making appearances elsewhere in the community.

He said those interested could either call the Selma Mall 874-7112 or the North Pole, where he sleeps at night.