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Christmas In February

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Christmas In February

Guess what, Jeanketeers? There are new sounds coming from the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Rick Teasdale! No, it's not the patter of little feet, it's the whirrrr of motorized-scooter wheels! Yep, you heard it here first: My long-lost father Horvel is staying with us!

Well, he's not technically long-lost, since we knew where he was all that time (California). But I hadn't seen him for nearly five years. In my book, that qualifies as long-lost. People get reunited on talk shows after being apart for less time than that!

Anyway, our reunion took place shortly before Christmas. After separating from his third wife, Dad came to live with my brother Kevin for awhile. But Kevin had only planned on hosting Dad for the Christmas season, so when Groundhog Day rolled around, he politely let Dad know it was time to move along.

Dad was living in a motel when he approached me about staying at my place for awhile. I predicted—correctly, I might add—that if Dad paid us for room and board, Rick would go for it. "Only because I'm sick of paying all the rent because you can't hold down a job," Rick growled. (What a pussycat!)

Having Dad in the house has taken some getting used to. He pretty much lives in his Rascal, which makes for a tight squeeze in our one-bedroom apartment. You should have heard my kitty Priscilla screech when Dad rolled over her tail! (Don't worry, kitty-lovers, nothing was broken!) Dad only gets out of the scooter to sleep on the living-room sofa bed, sit in Rick's recliner, or shower. The scooter has already left black streaks on the kitchen walls, and there's a brown patch on the living-room rug where the wheels ground in some dog doody they picked up outside.

On the fourth day with our new roommate, I caught Rick sitting on the foot of our waterbed, holding his head in his hands. "Your dad is bumming me out," he said. "When I get to be his age, I'll be even fatter and hairier than I am now—I completely intend to stay fat, Jean. So when I'm old, I'm going to be just like Horvel, riding around in a gimp trike and lucky if I can net a hand job." (Sheesh!) I told Rick that I would be there by his side no matter what, but he just grunted.

You can see why I was relieved when Dad thought of an idea that would get him out of the apartment.

For years, Dad has made a lucrative living as a shopping-mall Santa. From the white beard on down to the bowlful-of-jelly belly, he certainly looks the part! But, of course, the job is only seasonal. I mean, was only seasonal, until Dad had an epiphany! Why not play Santa all year round? He told me his plans over brunch at The Licked Skillet.

"I found a strip mall that rents space cheap," he said. "We'll move in a few Christmas trees, dump some artificial snow on the floor, put up some Christmas lights, and there you go: Off-Season Santa is born!"

I thought the idea certainly had great cuteness potential—and you Jeanketeers know how much I adore cute things—but I had reservations.

"How would this make money?" I asked him. "And besides, isn't it more magical that you only get a glimpse of Santa around Christmas, rather than every day?"

Dad rolled his eyes. "That son-in-law of mine has made you way too pragmatic, Jeannie," he said. Then he went on his old saw about how people are all about instant gratification these days. "We microwave our dinners, movies come out on DVD mere weeks after they're released, and instead of darning a sock with a hole in it, folks simply buy a new pair." I told him I didn't understand what he was driving at.

"Year-round shopping-mall Santas are a virtually untapped source of income," he said. "There's no reason why a child shouldn't sit on Santa's lap seven days a week, January through December! Think of the applications, Jeannie. A parent could shell out a few bucks to have her kid sit on Santa's lap in July and rattle off the things he wants for his birthday. Why, back in California, the neighbor children were always asking me where Rudolph was!"

Dad said he could mind the business end of things, but he needed someone to handle the creative issues. And who did he have in mind? None other than yours truly! He said I could be in charge of decorating the store and taking digital photos of him and his customers. Best of all, I'd get to wear a cute elf suit!

That clinched it for me. Finally, I'd have a job where I could exercise my abundant imagination! Besides, I was really moved that Dad would ask me to be his partner. He used to let so many months go by between phone calls and letters that I'd begun to think he'd traded his family in for an exciting California life with his third wife. Now that I knew he needed me, how could I turn him down?

As soon as I said I'd help him, Dad signed a yearlong lease on the rental space. Now things are officially underway—and not a moment too soon. This morning, hubby Rick and my "long-lost" dad were sitting in the living room sipping beer and watching ESPN when Rick asked him if he ever got "a rise" out of having all those kids on his lap. I thought Dad was going to leap out of his Rascal and deck Rick. But Dad just chuckled and said that Rick would be getting some coal in his stocking for that remark. Then Rick had to ask if that was what Dad's third wife would be getting. Dad didn't say anything after that.

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