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Craven: Encounter With Santa

12/17/09 7:55AM By Jay Craven
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(HOST) 'Tis the season for close encounters of the jolly kind, as commentator Jay Craven found out on a long, strange trip to a bookstore in Rutland.

(CRAVEN) I do most of the cooking in our house - and I like making dinners - but I've never cooked a turkey.  This makes our annual holiday forays to my Middlebury in-laws the slim threads that connect us to American culinary traditions.

Last year, my sister-in-law couldn't make it until the day after Thanksgiving, so we spent the actual holiday at home, catching a movie and scouting out a franchise diner where I honored the season by taking a chance on the reconstituted turkey - which I later regretted.   

The next morning, on the way to Middlebury, I sang a couple of stanzas of "over the river and through the woods" as 14 year-old Jasper pulled his ski hat over his ears.  "It's not working, Dad," he muttered. "I wish my Ipod wasn't broken."

Undaunted, I started a lively version of "Deck the Halls" and picked up speed - at the very moment we passed a state trooper who switched on her blue light.  Jasper was now amused.  "This'll be good," he said.

Fifteen minutes and a hefty ticket later we were back on the road and I was no longer in the mood to sing. In Middlebury, our turkey dinner was terrific. But as the pumpkin pie hit the table, I announced that I had a quick meeting in Rutland and would have to miss the annual family slide show - featuring my wife Bess as a 14 year-old, playing a dinosaur in "Skin of Our Teeth."  

My rendezvous in Rutland - to discuss a new film project - was at the Book King. I was browsing the mystery section, when a gaggle of youngsters steamed in with their parents. I turned to the bookseller.  "Nice to see kids here.  Get them started early, I always say."

"Heck, I sold tickets to the Grateful Dead," he said.  "If I can handle that, I can put up with anything."    

What was he talking about?  What did a stream of holiday shoppers have to do with the Grateful Dead?  Suddenly, literally hundreds of kids and parents were squeezing into every inch of the place.

I felt trapped.  I moved for the door but got tangled up in a knot of four year-olds at my feet, dead serious and crawling on their hands and knees to the front of the store.  A dozen more inched along on their bellies behind them.  I eyeballed an escape route, put my head down, and zig-zagged my way to the exit.  I came up for air outside, dazed and staring straight at the cause for all the commotion.  It was Santa Claus - and he did look a bit like Jerry Garcia.

"I didn't mean to rattle you," he said.  

"No problem, Santa," I said.  "But you've got your work cut out for you.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."

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