You might say Santa Fred began training to be Santa's Helper back in the '70s when he bought a Santa suit at Sears for $60. For his and Barbara Crowe McDougal's five children, he was Santa. That has continued through the years, and now the grandchildren get just as excited as the children did.
Fred had retired after working for 40 years at General Motors. He had found life after retirement rather humdrum. So, Santa Fred decided he would do what he had always wanted to do. He would become a professional Santa.
That does not happen overnight. Fred - I still want to call him by his nickname, Freddie - began his journey to the North Pole well over a year ago.
Other than getting his beard and hair trimmed, he has not had a haircut since October 2008. Also, he has put on some pounds for playing the role.
Being Santa is expensive. Best Santa suits may well cost near $1,000. That does not include the boots, belt, bag, glasses and other necessities. Incidentally, Santa Fred's belt was made by former Cherokee County Sheriff Bo Ballard.
As in other professions, business cards are a must. His read, "Santa Fred ... Available for private parties, school or church functions and individual photo sessions ... Santa for Hire - Have real beard, will travel."
There are international, national and even metro Atlanta organizations for "real bearded Santas." Being a "real bearded Santa" is mega important to success in the industry. Fred and Barbara attended a luncheon for the metro Santas. They learned a lot.
It was through his hairdresser that Santa Fred got his big break. Golden Scissors in Roswell specializes in styling Santa hair. The salon has about 250 Santa clients each year. Recently it took seven hours for Santa Fred to have his hair groomed for the season.
The stylists at Gold Scissors have contacts with Noerr Programs Corporation. It provides about 225 real bearded Santas for 165 shopping malls in 37 states. The stylists told them about Santa Fred.
Just after he had talked with Woodstock's Billy Peppers about appearing in the Woodstock Christmas parade, Fred got a call from an agent with Noerr. They needed a Santa at Roosevelt Field Mall on New York's Long Island. All of his expenses would be paid, and they would have a place for him to stay when he arrived. They offered him the job. They also had a job for Barbara. She would be one of Santa's helpers.
Whoa! Santa Fred, who had never worked professionally a single day, went from possibly being in Woodstock's Christmas parade to an offer to be a big-time New York City Santa. After the call came from Noerr, Fred and Ms. Claus had some serious thinking and decision making to do.
There were two huge drawbacks. Since Fred would need to be in New York on Nov. 20 and stay through Christmas Eve, they would totally miss the holiday season with their family. Then, too, their daughter, Alison, and her husband, Chris Higgins, will be having their first baby during that time.
But this was a chance of a lifetime. Roosevelt Field Mall is the largest shopping mall in the state of New York and the eighth-largest shopping mall in the United States. The anchor stores include Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's.
Roosevelt Field was an airport and military airfield named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt's son, Quentin, who died in World War I.
It was from there that Charles Lindberg took off for his historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post were among the many other top pilots who flew from there. The airfield closed in the early '50s.
After considering everything involved, Santa Fred accepted the invitation. Barbara declined her job offer. She will not go to New York until after the baby is born. Since Fred will leave for New York on Monday, the family will celebrate Thanksgiving early. Then they will have their Christmas family gathering after they are back home.
While Fred has wanted to be one of Santa's helpers since he was a child, he has another reason for making that dream come true. He wants to be a legend to his grandchildren. He can imagine future generations saying, "My granddaddy was Santa Claus."
Today, Fred has his first and only day as a professional Santa before leaving for New York. He is at the Jingle Bell Shop sponsored by the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center at 1130 Bluffs Parkway in Canton. Go by to see him and wish him well.
Naturally, we will call him Santa. But what will we call Barbara? Some time ago she saw a movie where a most unusual Ms. Santa told people to call her "Your Majesty." Tongue-in-cheek, Barbara says she wants to be called "Your Majesty," too.
And that is the story of "One Man's Trip to the North Pole."
It is once again proof that good things happen to good people.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska and a former county school superintendent.