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Fulfilling a wish just like Santa would, and sincerely

By SUE CARLTON
Published December 19, 2005


Let's call him Stanley.

It's not his real name, but his is equally funny for a kid only 7 years old, a name sort of middle-aged and serious. Maybe that was part of his appeal. Or maybe it was how he wrote down what he wanted in this straightforward, kid-like way, pencil to lined paper in laborious block letters.

Or maybe it was the mystery of the Hummer boat.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Every Christmas, my husband stops at the Sincerely, Santa table at the WestShore Plaza mall in Tampa to leaf through notebooks filled with letters to Santa. What's cool about this nonprofit program is you hear from kids themselves.

Some of the neediest Hillsborough County students in kindergarten through third grade write letters to Santa. Then, a couple of weeks before Christmas, people who want to, um, help Santa make good on those wishes during his really, really busy time of year can pick out a letter at the mall and go shopping.

My husband likes to find a kid who might somehow feel a little alone in his family, a boy in a sea of girls, or one years apart from his nearest sibling. He has three rules: no guns, no video games, no live animals. Everything else is fair game.

Some kids ask for warm blankets instead of major toys, or a jacket for a brother, or something for their mom, or baby food. Some letters kill you every time.

And some of them are pure kid: a boy who swears he's been good but confesses transgressions against a little brother (who deserved it.) Kids who will grow up to be diplomats: "Thank you, Santa. I wonder what you want for Christmas." Kids who wish for the moon, the stars, a puppy, a kitten and an Xbox besides. "I want a motorcycle," a very little boy wrote this year. "I will take care of it."

My husband picked Stanley, who was hoping for "a Windup motorcycle and toy hummer boat," a pretty modest list. (Philosophical question: If you're not a fan of showy, real-life, gas-guzzling Hummers, is there a problem with buying someone a toy version? I figured, nah. To a 7-year-old, could it be much different than those hulking yellow Tonka trucks my nephews played with?)

Most of the young members of our extended family are at the age where they prefer Starbucks gift cards to Barbies, so we're a little rusty at this toy stuff. My husband Googled "Hummer boat," and amazingly, found little evidence anyone had thought up such a thing for people to spend money on. There was a Little Tikes Hummer Hauler pulling a little boat, but it seemed young for Stanley, and not technically a Hummer boat besides.

It was time to brave the biggest, brightest and scariest of kid stores, where the average 10-year-old shopper knows more about programming a cell phone than I ever will: Toys "R" Us.

We wandered till we found the cars. Oh, there were toy Hummers, not to mention toy Cadillac Escalades and various other toy SUVs, some the size of Rottweilers. But no Hummer boat. We asked teenage employees. We asked random children. We went to Target. More cars. No Hummer boat.

But wait. Stanley was only 7, the letter said. Maybe they hadn't gotten to conjunctions in his writing class at school. Maybe he's too young to have seen even the retro version of the old cartoon "Conjunction Junction" ("What's your function? Hookin' up words and phrases and clauses.")

Could Stanley have meant a Hummer and a boat?

This week, Sincerely, Santa volunteers will distribute the thousands of gifts they've collected. Among them will be a pretty cool Spider-Man on a motorcycle, a football my husband liked, one of those Nerf basketball hoops every kid should have over his door.

And one toy Hummer. And a nice boat.

Sincerely, Santa has finished collecting toys this year but is still taking cash donations to make up for wishes unfulfilled. Those can be sent to Sincerely, Santa, 10740 N 56th St., Suite 146, Tampa, FL 33617.

--Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 19, 2005, 01:38:18]


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