About a decade ago, the North Pole shifted south a bit. It’s now located near Clements, Minnesota – a small town of 156 souls, roughly 15 miles southeast of Redwood Falls. But it wasn’t climate change, nor a shift of tectonic plates that moved the Pole. It was a beard contest. “I grew it for a beard contest in Wabasso,” Santa said of his full white beard. And yes, that’s its natural color. “When I was 40 I was gray – but at least I got hair!” he added with a twinkle in his eye. That beard contest was 11 summers ago. “After the contest, I was going to take his beard off,” Mrs. Claus said. “Then somebody said ‘why don’t you talk to my relative – he does this for a living’.” The couple paid a visit to the man and the rest, as they say, is history. “I made a suit for Santa,” his bride said, “but I thought he looked kind of scary in it!” Fortunately, during a subsequent trip to Branson, they found a shop that carries clothing for Mr. and Mrs. Clauses of all shapes and sizes. “All the kids who have been on my knee – sometimes there have been 300 kids at an event – and this suit takes it,” Santa said. His beard also holds up to the wear-and-tear of a Santa’s life – although it’s a good thing the facial hair is firmly attached. “They (the children) do check to see if it’s a real beard,” he said. “Some pull on it – one little boy put his knee into my chest and pulled!” But no, he reassured one and all, beard tugging doesn’t hurt. Santa has worn out two pair of boots, however. (His new pair arrived at the North Pole just in time for the 2011 Christmas season.) While one would think that any pair of winter boots would be sufficient for Santa, he found out differently after his boots wore out last year. “I fixed them last year best I could with black duct tape,” Mrs. Claus said. “But I think some of the kids noticed!” The Mrs. accompanies Santa on nearly all of his Christmas-time visits; they travel as far north as New London, west to Vesta, east to New Ulm and south to Sleepy Eye and Lamberton. On a typical Christmas Eve, the Clauses have stops at 3 and 4 o’clock, then 6, then 9. They visit upwards of 18 homes and events during each season, which begins in November, ends in early January. Earlier in their career, Mr. and Mrs. Claus brought elves along to help as well; those elves (otherwise known as grandchildren) have grown up, but it won’t be too very long before there is a new generation of elves ready to assist. In the meantime, Mrs. Claus keeps a miniature elf on the candy basket. “Some of the little ones are fascinated by the little elf,” she said. Everybody, she added, likes the candy in the basket. “Sometimes we run out of candy canes,” she said. “Then we have to go to caramels.” Blueberry candy canes are the favorites, they explained, lemon comes in second. Traditional peppermint is not so much in demand. The Clauses bring chocolate when they visit senior living facilities and – because they don’t want anyone to have to choose between being naughty and nice – they also make sure to have sugar-free chocolate on hand as well. “Three days old to 98 years old, they still get to come and see Santa,” he said. And Santa and Mrs. Claus take their job very seriously. “You can’t disappoint the kids,” he said. “In 11 years, we’ve only missed one visit.” “It was a bad night,” Mrs. Claus said. “(Event organizers) said no little kids would be coming out that night either.” Otherwise the couple is sort of like the post office (except the Clauses work holidays). Neither rain, nor heavy wet snow, nor dark of night will keep them from their appointed rounds. “Last year there was a snow storm on the way to New London,” he said. “It was heavy wet snow and we had to stop in Olivia for more washer fluid (for the sleigh windows, of course). “We made it to New London and just when we got there, five deer ran across the yard,” he said. The kids inside the house saw the deer; Santa and Mrs. Claus made their entrance just a few moments later. Snow, “reindeer” and Santa! Oh my! On the trip home, the couple stopped at the motel and convenience store in Morton. The proprietor, seeing Santa’s boots and red pants beneath his warm winter coat, asked if the rest of the suit was nearby. While Santa obliged and got the rest of the suit, the proprietor filled a bag with candy and goodies and sent Santa upstairs where a party was in progress. “Were they surprised,” Santa chuckled. Last winter was a snowy one – even at the North Pole. “We didn’t know if we should go to Sleepy Eye because it was snowing so hard. But we did and afterwards they said we’d better stay at the bed and breakfast,” Mrs. Claus said. “We sat outside (of the bed and breakfast) in the car and looked at it,” Santa said. “We decided it was letting up so we went home.” After all, there were more stops to make yet that week. Everyone who comes to see Santa gets a personal conversation with the bearded man. “They come with their letters and lists – some are so little they can barely read – but they got a list,” Santa said. He gets requests for a lot of ponies – but doesn’t promise anything he can’t deliver. “Usually the parents are standing right there and I say ‘turn around and tell your parents that’.” Sometimes the requests tug pretty hard at Santa’s heartstrings. “Three years ago, it was really bad,” he related. “Several of them asked if their mom and dad could get back together.” Usually, the requests bring a smile to Santa’s lips – even if they are even more implausible. “One little eight-year-old said ‘I want a million dollars. I didn’t get it last year, is it coming this year?’ “Then there are some that do not have the slightest idea what they want for Christmas,” he said. “They think and they think and they just can’t come up with it!” He fields a lot of questions from the younger set as well: “Where do you keep your sled?” “How did you get here?” “Where are the reindeer?” Santa has yet to be recognized for his off-season identity, but there was one close call: “You’re my grandpa’s brother!” the little tyke said. “I said ‘now….where did you hear that?” Santa related. “He said, ‘I was told that…’ “My grandkids, though, they didn’t know it was me,” he smiled. Warning: Read further at your own risk. Santa and Mrs. Claus – a.k.a. Vilo and Joan Dahmes live on the farm where Vilo was born (an event which occurred nearly 80 years ago). Vilo still farms and just recently went back into raising cattle. Joan, an accomplished artist, taught art in the Springfield school system before retiring and donning the Mrs. Claus garb. The couple met in the early 1950s. “I taught country school and I roomed with a family who went to the same church as Vilo’s family,” Joan said. “I knew her because Springfield (where he went to school) always played Redwood and she was a cheerleader,” Vilo said, smiling across the table at his Mrs. Claus. And on a moon-lit winter’s night it might be said that, while the prairie town of Clements is a bit south of the old North Pole, if you close your eyes and wish real hard – one can still see it from there!
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