Past Times

All in a day’s work for Santa

Santa greets eager children at Crabtree Shopping mall in 1975.
Santa greets eager children at Crabtree Shopping mall in 1975. N&O Photo

It’s not always all fun and candy canes for the department store Santa. In 1974, N&O writer David Zucchino witnessed an encounter between one Santa and a little boy who grabbed a piece of candy and ran away.

If it had happened to C.S. Blount, he might have cussed. But C.S. Blount was absent this day, having dressed up as Santa Claus. So Santa just kept on grinning.

After huddling with several hundred kids a day at the North Hills Shopping Center mall, he’s bound to get a couple who deserve switches in their stockings. It’s all a part of the job, which, for Santa, is really no job at all.

Oh, he gets paid – “a bundle,” according to photographer Jim Lakey, who pays him. ...

That, of course, is because this Santa is THE Santa. Ask any kid. He is 62, with genuine white whiskers, long white hair, a red face and an honest-to-goodness belly. Kids come from as far away as Durham and Lumberton to see him.

Many of them are puzzled, having seen other Santas in other cities. Those guys, Santa always explains, are his helpers.

“The kids want to see the real thing,” Santa said, for he truly believes that he is Santa Claus. He must be, because after 30 years on the job, he still feels the magic of the costume that makes everybody love him. ...

He seems fascinated by children, holding an intimate conversation with every guest.

“I want every one of ’em to feel like a VIP,” he said.

They wouldn’t complain even if he didn’t because, as Santa says, “they wouldn’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

Later, after several hours of kids, Santa was beat. He had earned his money.

“I’m real tired now,” he said, closing his eyes for a moment. “But I’ve got a whole heartful of happiness.”

He cocked an eyebrow at a bashful girl and asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She said she had already told another Santy Claus. The N&O Dec. 16, 1974

In 1991, writer Paul Nowell introduced readers to a special Santa appearing in Charlotte, who was purported to be the real Santa.

Santa is actually Roy Tittle, 62, an insurance salesman whose long white beard and matching hair are genuine. So are his sense of humor and his compassion for children.

He set up his sleigh and reindeer in the corner of the F.W. Woolworth Co. store in the Park Road Shopping Center. And nearly every day since Thanksgiving, parents and children have waited hours to spend a few minutes with this Santa.

Some have been returning to the same Santa for 10 years. ...

“The only complaint I’ve ever gotten was from a mother who felt I spent too much time with the children, “ he said, his eyes twinkling. “I guess the only child I didn’t spent too much time with was hers.

Tittle loves what he does so much that he uses all of his yearly vacation time to “sit and listen to the children.”

His shirts are embroidered with reindeer and holly sprigs, and the license plate on his bright red MGB sports car reads “St. Nick.”

He’s been playing Santa since 1979, mostly with fellow insurance agent Clara Tuttle. She plays Mrs. Claus and takes photographs.

It all began when Tittle underwent surgery on his neck in 1979 and couldn’t work for three months. He grew his first beard.

“I went to visit a friend at a day care,” he recalled. “This little boy no older than 2 looked up at me and asked, ‘Is that Santa Claus?’ The teacher said, ‘It sure is so you better be good.’

“I went home that night and told my wife I knew what I was going to do for Christmas,” he said.

A father of three and grandfather to four, Tittle never promises the children too much. He also has a steadfast rule.

“They have to check with their parents if they want an animal or a baby brother or sister,” he said.

Sometimes, he said, even Santa doesn’t have all the answers.

“One little boy said all he wanted was for his daddy to come back home,” Tittle said. “His parents had split up. I told him old Santa would try his best. I couldn’t say much at all.”

He also remembers Joey, a mentally retarded young man who had been visiting Santa for several years. Tittle saw the obituary of the man’s father and decided to go to the funeral.

“When I came in, Joey had just seen his father for the first time since he died,” he said. “His head was down when I came in the room, so I put my hand on his shoulder. He looked up and said, ‘I knew you would come, Santa.’”

This Santa talks about taking some time off, but he’s having too much fun.

While all children are special to Tittle, a couple of 4-year-olds brought out the biggest laughs.

“This little boy came charging right up and started right into what he wanted for Christmas,” he said. “I said, ‘Whoa! Whoa! I have to ask you a question. What I need to know is, have you been a good little boy?’

“He looked up at me and said, ‘Santa, I’ve been good, and I’ve been bad. But when I’m bad I’m real sorry!’”

A little girl sat on his lap just last week and proclaimed: “I want Snow White and the Three Dwarfs.”

“I asked her, ‘Wait a minute, isn’t that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?’ She said, ‘That’s right, Santa, but I’ve only got room for three.’” The N&O Dec. 23, 1991

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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