In a tiny workshop in John Horn’s back yard, Santa Claus comes to life.
“I am the real Santa,” he shouted to be heard over the roar of a wood lathe.
A spray of sawdust pitched up from a whirling piece of wood that Horn was working on and flew at his face like a blizzard. When he finally leaned back and switched off the machine, what had been a plain old piece of two-by-four pine was almost a race car.
Tiny slivers of wood clung to the wreath of hair that circled Horn’s head. His eyes twinkled from a broad face. He laughed, making his belly shake like jelly and sending wood chips tumbling from a beard that was white as snow.
“I get a great sense of satisfaction doing something with my hands,” Horn said.
Unfortunately, not many of his handmade toys get into kids’ hands. These days a lot of children ask for things like the Rainbow Loom and American Girl dolls, Horn said.
“The older ones want iPhones and iPads,” he said. “They aren’t exposed to wooden toys in the stores and on TV, so they don’t ask for them. But handmade wooden toys by Santa will last through generations.”
Horn’s been turning a variety of woods into works of art — including toys — for a long time. But at 81, the retired band teacher/Army veteran/gumball machine manager knows that wood turning brings more satisfaction than profit.
“You can’t make a living on a lathe that does one thing at a time,” Horn said.
The spirit of Christmas
But you can make a lot of things that bring people joy. Through clubs like Woodturners of North Texas and Golden Triangle Woodturners, toy cars and wooden tops made on Horn’s lathe have found their way to hundreds of kids — most of them underprivileged and/or physically challenged.
Since 1996, when North Pointe Baptist Church in Hurst, where Horn is a deacon, needed Santa for part of its Christmas pageant, he’s taken on the role of St. Nick.
It was the church’s pastor, Paul Paschall, who saw the spirit of Christmas reflected in the twinkle of Horn’s eyes. Santa was soon showing up at members’ homes for Christmas parties.
“I remember when he came to my house on Christmas Day 15 years ago,” Paschall said. “It was like a rock star showed up at our front door. We had a house full of grandkids. He was Santa, and people believed.”
It’s sad when some people stop believing in Santa.
“When I find out someone doesn’t believe …,” he said, “well, there’s no point in coming to see them. Ho … ho … ho.”
‘He’s here! He’s here!’
None of those people are among the children at Little Tyke Child Care Center in Richland Hills, said the director, Christy Dougan.
“As soon as he hits the door they’re yelling ‘He’s here! He’s here!’” Dougan said. “This isn’t your mall Santa. Sometimes at the mall they’re in a hurry to get the kids in and out. He’s very patient.”
He not only listens to what kids have to say, but also gives hugs and knows their names, Dougan said.
“He calls each child one by one by name to his lap,” Dougan said. “And he gives each child a wrapped story book, because Santa wants children to learn to read.”
But Horn also wants people to remember the meaning of Christmas itself, and it’s a message he frequently passes on to the kids who climb onto his lap.
“The thrill is to spread the joy of the celebration of the birth of our savior,” he said.