Commentary by Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
As a child, Christmas in my family never really ended each year. After all, my grandpa was Santa Claus.
We’ve all grown up being told that Santa lives at the North Pole, but I’m here to tell you the Santa I knew lived in Kentucky.
It was more than 20 years ago when Jack Gillespie first donned a Santa suit. I was only a child, but I always remember it being that way.
Because my father was in the military and we moved often, my grandparents’ house epitomized home for me. The excitement I would feel when we would visit was unmatched as a child. His sleigh would sit against the side of the house in his “Santa’s Sleigh Only” parking spot and his red SUV decorated with tinsel and holly boasted a “HO HO” or “ST NICK” license plate parked in the garage. Santa decorations filled the home where he and my grandmother, Mrs. Claus, lived. An entire refrigerator in the basement was dedicated to keeping candy canes fresh year round, pictures of grandpa and various country music celebrities lined the hallway from his many years in the Nashville parade. He even had a wood workshop in the basement where he would craft rocking horses and other toys for us grandchildren and where I would nail random bits of wood together pretending to be his helper.
Even when we left the house to go do little things like pick up a gallon of milk, grandpa was ready.
I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve heard the words “Look, mom! It’s Santa!” I would stand there and swell with pride as he would take a moment for each and every one of them. It could be a wink and a tap of the nose, handing out a candy cane from his shirt pocket, or even taking a knee to listen to everything they wanted for Christmas that year. No matter what he had on his agenda for the day, he was there to personify the magic of Santa.
It’s been nearly a year since we lowered my grandfather to his final resting place on Christmas Eve. Although I couldn’t see the bigger picture as a child, my grandpa taught me that the spirit of Christmas doesn’t end December 25th.
Growing up with Santa taught me that when you put the needs of others before your own, life is much more rewarding. Year after year, I watched him put a smile on the faces of children and families at the Ronald McDonald House, children’s hospitals and volunteer his time with the local fire department. Even on his bad days, his “ho, ho, ho” was just as hearty because he knew that someone else was counting on it to be.
Growing up with Santa taught me that every person deserves the same respect; the sick, the homeless, the poor, the physically or mentally handicapped, to him there was no difference.
Throughout the next few weeks I encourage you to enjoy every moment you have with your family, to look past the presents and food and take the time to find that special part of Santa in yourself.
In the last conversation I had with grandpa while he was in the hospital, I was able to tell the man I respected most in my life I would be giving my son the middle name Jack. Though he won’t get the chance to ever know him, I’ll be sure that every Christmas I pass down the memories and lessons I gained from growing up with Jack Gillespie.