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Colfax Winterfest reaps new friendships and a wish for Santa

By: Pauline Nevins
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For 15 years Santa has set up his Christmas village in the Colfax town center — mostly in Roy Tom’s Plaza opposite the string of shops that make up this small city’s Main Street.

The cabana in the center of the plaza had been habitable most years, sheltered by canvas wind-breakers decorated with snowy Christmas scenes created by local artist, Foxie McCleary. But even Foxie’s holiday scenes couldn’t protect Santa, Mrs. Claus, the elves, and crowds of children, on severe winter nights.

This year, the invitation to move Santa to the warmth of the train depot waiting room across the street from the Plaza, was gratefully accepted by the Friends of the Colfax Library who organize the annual Santa’s Village.

The day of the Winterfest the elf Friends arrived early at the station to put the finishing touches to the decorations. A lit Christmas tree wound with scarlet ribbons, and dressed with glistening balls and sparkling snowflake ornaments, stood in one corner of the waiting room. Christmas was on every shelf and tabletop.

While the elves busied themselves creating a path of lights to Santa’s Village, my husband, Jim, and I were tasked with stringing the six-foot Santa’s Village banner across the street on the plaza’s arched entrance.

People who look like they have nowhere else to go frequently gather in the plaza. That day, two young men with an assortment of stuffed bags, were standing by a bench outside the cabana. Each had hair that hung below their shoulders. One had fair hair, the other dark hair and a bushy beard. Both were taller than average. As Jim struggled to tie the banner, the men asked if he needed help. As they came closer they looked less threatening. They were handsome, clear-eyed and smiling. They sprung up on the arch’s metal steps with ease, and tied the banner.

Jim and I thanked them and we chatted for a bit. They’d met, they said, on the train that just arrived in Colfax from Colorado. The fair-haired guy introduced himself as Alexander, said he was a touring musician on his way to Los Angeles, but had to get to Sacramento first. The other man, whose name I’ve forgotten, was waiting for his girlfriend to drive up from Auburn. As we talked, Alexander opened a guitar case that was leaning against one of the bags, and fished out a music CD.

“What’s your name,” he asked me, and then scribbled a greeting on the back of the disc. I gave him some money in return and then offered to walk with him to the depot where the bus to Sacramento stopped. As Alexander and I crossed the street, the dark-haired young man with the beard sailed by us, his long legs extended like a graceful gazelle. Running towards him was a pretty young woman. They embraced and lingered in a passionate kiss. Alexander turned to me and said with a wry smile, “Must be the girlfriend.” They’d found each other.

At the depot I introduced Alexander to Swen and his wife, Chris, who are members of the Colfax Historical Society and were volunteering in the museum adjacent to the waiting room. They welcomed Alexander and helped him locate a bus schedule.

When our Friends’ group began planning the move from the Plaza, several members fretted that people wouldn’t be able to find us, or they wouldn’t want to leave Main Street, the route of the parade of lights and where the vendors congregated. We’d advertised our move. The Auburn Journal had published our whereabouts, and several town merchants had pasted posters in their windows.

We needn’t have worried. Kevin, the photographer who has donated his time and expertise for almost 10 years, and his wife Karen, patiently coaxed smiles from more than 200 children who managed to find Santa. Each child left with a gift bag donated by the members of the Friends, and a new book purchased with grant funds.

I rarely see Santa with the children since my elf station is outside handing envelopes to parents to address for their free Santa photos. I didn’t know that some children give Santa a note. As we were packing up for the night, I collected a bundle of letters that Santa had carefully placed by his bag. Karen was standing beside me as I opened the letter on top. In red crayon on white paper a tiny hand had printed that they loved Santa. But it was the last words that brought tears to our eyes: “Please bring my daddy home.”

It was left to our imagination whether the plea was for a daddy who was abroad in the military, or one who had somehow left the family.

Either way, I hoped he would find his way home for Christmas.

Pauline Nevins is author of the memoir, “Fudge” The Downs and Ups of a Biracial, Half-Irish British War Baby.