Kenai woman has soft spot for Santas

Posted: Sunday, December 15, 2002

It's deceiving.

When you drive past Lorraine and Dave Clare's house in Kenai, one would never suspect what's inside.

However, there are telltale signs.

Nestled on a table in the front window sits Santa and Mrs. Claus. They move from side to side in an easygoing motion.

But it gets bigger.

Stepping through the front door, a person is greeted at the top of the stairs with a 5-foot Santa. Make a noise and he breaks into a dance, swiveling his hips from side to side in Elvis fashion.

To his right, on the entertainment center, sits a collection of handmade boxes, each with a Santa scene: Santa in the workshop with elves; Santa putting on his coat as the reindeer munch their hay; and Mrs. Claus baking away in the kitchen.

And there's more. Much more.

"I have 125 Santas out," Lorraine says proudly. "But I'm missing a box."

The Clares are new to the Kenai Peninsula. Having moved here from Michigan in July, it's obvious the misplaced box causes her concern.


Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

"I have 180 figurines -- and that doesn't include comforters, towels, rugs, pillow shams, my clock and glassware. That brings the total closer to 200."

Lorraine is a collector. From January through Thanksgiving, her passion is clowns, but from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, the clowns make way for one jolly ol' elf.

And it all started with one.

"It was 30 years ago," Lorraine said. "I was 17, and I saw this Santa. It played music; it was cool.

"I thought, 'This is nice. I'll just buy it.' I played it so much I wore it out and had to put new batteries in it."

She still has it, too. Santa's red coat is a bit faded, and the music sounds tinny, but it works -- and it brings back memories.

"I love Christmas," Lorraine said, smiling.

"Money-wise, I probably have a fortune here, but they're not worth anything to anyone but me."

Still, not just any Santa will do for her collection.

"Some are just pretty to look at, but I like the fun ones. I like the ones that move. They're fun!"


Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

Most of them move, all right.

There's snoring Santas -- in bed and under the beach umbrella -- with the full belly action, and even one that whistles in his sleep to the tune of "Jingle Bells."

There's a Santa on a scooter -- min-us the traditional red suit. There's a hula-hooping Santa, Santa stuck upside down in a chimney, Santa petting his dog, Santa with candles and a few Santas who like to read Christmas stories to children.

And when it comes to music, nobody can move like Santa.

There's Santa on saxophone, Santa playing guitar and singing about a country Christmas, Santa singing Christmas carols, Santa singing and driving. There's even a frog Santa that croaks out a tune.

Santa can shake a tail feather, too. He can rock, roll, boogie and sway to just about any holiday tune. And when he's done dancing, there's even a Santa soaking his poor "aching feet."

The only thing better is when they're all going off at the same time. Each moving Santa is triggered by sound -- a slamming door, a burst of laughter, a clap of the hands.

"If Dave wants to relax, he doesn't want them on," Lorraine said. "But they're not bothersome to him. When I turn them on, he kids me about having too many.

"We were just sitting here the other day and he said, 'We're being invaded by Santas!'"

With all five of their children grown and out of the house, that leaves Pepsi, the 4-year-old Beagle, to deal with the "sounds of Christmas."


Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

"He sniffs around, but he doesn't bother them," Lorraine said.

To her, the sound is pure joy.

"After Dave goes to work, I sit down with the Christmas lights on and turn on my Santas," she said. "It makes me smile."

Which is why she started collecting them in the first place.

"People always feel good at Christmas," she said. "It's the time of year when we really help other people. I like to see someone smile. These make me smile."

Lorraine said after she bought her first Santa, she saw another one she liked, then another.

"I bought a couple, then a couple more and a couple more.

"Every year I try to purchase several. I bought four this year.

"There is no pattern. If I see something I like, I have to buy it."

But her Santas aren't just from her. It didn't take long before her children got into the act, helping her expand the collection.


Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

"I have many from my children," she said. "The first dancing one I have came from my son. It's very special."

Dave has been a big contributor, as well.

"Dave is the nicest, sweetest man. He picks out as many for me as I do," Lorraine said.

But initially, it took a little getting used to.

"When we met, he was a bit surprised," Lorraine said. "They really are my toys."

Such a first response is un-derstandable.

"Come see my Santas," Lor-raine beckoned to Kelsie Watson, who stoped by for a visit.

Her resp-onse was a common one.

"Oh my gosh!" Kelsie exclaimed as she made her way into the living room. "I didn't know they made that many Santas!"

Lorraine instantly turned into a child, explaining what each Santa can do and turning them on one by one.


No caption was contained in the photo file

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

Soon the room was filled with music and the sounds of Christmas --bells, ho-ho-hoing and snoring Santas.

"It never gets to be too much for me," Lorraine said. "When they go off, my first reaction is to smile. If someone comes over, I'll turn them off as a courtesy, but they can go off all day for me."

She goes through a lot of batteries, and occasionally Santa is in need of repair. An older Santa that climbs a ladder carrying Christmas lights has a hitch in his get-along, and he repeatedly tries to climb the same step.

"I need to have Dave fix that one," Lorraine said.

With an entire wall of shelves, she has no problem filling them. Although her passion is for the livelier Santas, tucked in every corner is a figure of some sort.

There's Santa baking -- also a favorite pastime of Lorraine's -- Santa on a snowmachine, making toys, bowling, in snow globes, sledding, on music boxes, carrying lots of toys, riding in his sleigh -- with a moving version placed appropriately on the fireplace mantle. There's classic old European Santa and even the basic American Santa in his fur-lined red suit. And it wouldn't be Alaska without moose leading at least one sleigh.

"I put those on there," Lor-raine said. "I thought it needed it."

She does, however, have a true Alaska San-ta.

She said she found the perfect symbol at an Anchorage store: Santa in a canoe, decked out with full fishing gear.

"He doesn't do anything, but I really like him."

One that do-es move, though, has become a recent favorite. It's a remote control robot Santa, complete with serving tray.

"We like to put a glass of soda on his tray and send him across the living room," Lorraine said. "It's a lot of fun."

With so many figures to become lost in, one almost overlooks a small, 4-foot tree in the corner decorated with -- what else -- Santa ornaments.

"I have a 9-foot tree I normally put up, but ...," she said pointing to the ceiling.

A bigger room is needed.

The Clares plan to by a home soon. They rented tis home sight unseen, so the wall of shelves was a bonus. That also means there's still hope of finding the missing box of Santas.

"We have a garage full of boxes," she said.

The Clares plan to spend the holidays with family. In fact, this year's displaying of the Santas was a bit of a family project.

"My nephews came over to help me put them up," Lorraine said. "It takes about four hours to put them up -- you have to check the batteries.

"Dave explained to them that they were mine and not to play with them without asking me first."

With Santas ranging in size from 5-feet down to 2 inches-tall, it's hard for little ones' eyes not to glaze over in wonderment this time of year. Even the Coca-Cola bottles adorned with a twinkle-eyed Kris Kringle are tempting.

"I have to keep these back out of the way," Lorraine said. "I've had them since 1996."

As for future Christmases, Lorraine plans to continue her hobby.

"I'll collect them as long as I'm able," she said. "I feel sorry for the person who has to deal with this when I'm gone.

"If any of the children don't want them, I would donate them so young kids could have fun with them.

"My kids get me something in Santa form every year, but they have no desire to have the collection handed down to them."

But that doesn't matter to her. As she said, they are her toys.

"Most people could care less. I'm really into it for my own enjoyment," she said. "I'm into it for the fun."

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