Santa's North Idaho Express

Warren R. Truesdell, 32

'Tis the season to be jolly, the season of caring and sharing, the "Kootenai Klowns" of north Idaho, including "Santa" (Ken Waters), "K.O." (Ken Lockman), "Uncle Sam" (Ollie White), "Barney Fife" (Leigh Le Gore, Past Potentate) and I, as "Tinkle" the clown, are ready to tackle these objectives.

We're supplied with mini cloth animals, tubs of candy canes, gobs of sculpture balloons, and five men with hearts and minds as big as a full moon. We're headed on our pilgrimage of cheer, kindness, and love as we visit 12 of the nursing homes of northern Idaho. Nursing homes are filled with people who are often unhappy and lonely.

We "Klowns" enter their lives for a moment of happiness and give them a small gift, a candy cane, or a balloon twisted into an animal character. Just our appearance brings forth smiles and arms outstretched in greeting. A big hug from a Klown fills a momentary void in their lives and provides a time to recall childhood memories of Santa and his helpers.

One never knows what will happen. Our visits are not totally planned; things just happen! And how lovely these unexpected events are.

In a large living room of one nursing home, I noted a gentleman being wheeled down the hallway towards us. He was a very small man, maybe in his 80s or 90s. He wore a blue workshirt, bib overalls, clean white shoes, and a baseball hat covering a very small head. He was pushed up to me, got out of his wheelchair to face me, announced he was the chairman of the home's unit activities, gave me his name, and then presented me with a postal money order made payable to the Shriners Hospitals.

"I want you to have this money for your kids, in appreciation of what you Klowns do for us!" he said. "This money was earned from our in-house popcorn sales."

Needless to say "K.O." and myself had tears running down our cheeks. How wonderful, how considerate of the patients of this home!

We had completed a tour of another nursing home when a young lady caught up with us. She was out of breath, caused by running through very cold air to catch the Klowns. She asked, "Can you Klowns find time in your busy day to visit our children's day-care center across the street?" "Sure we will," I said. "How many children are there?" "Forty-eight" was her reply!

These kids, ages three to five, were outside playing when we arrived. By the time we had walked through a church building being used for the care center, all those children were sitting excitedly on a cement curb, their eyes aglow from the sight and color of the Klowns.

Santa proceeded to give each child a mini stuffed animal, and "Barney Fife" gave each child a candy cane. However, trying to blow balloons for character animals in the 18-degree weather was a folly.

The children then sang a couple of Christmas carols and hymns they had learned. We Klowns were then on the other side of life's spectrum: from nursing home to lovely children, just by walking across the street!

In another incident, we stopped after a long morning to have lunch. We were in full Klown costume. A very vibrant 80-year-old lady came to our table and asked us to go into the back banquet room which held 24 grandmothers who were having their "Grandma's Club" Christmas program. We made a big hit with this wonderful, active group of oldsters. They were all so appreciative of the bright colors, laughter, caring and sharing of Santa's 1995 North Idaho Express.

Together, we five Klowns expended 220 wonderful hours with the young and old. They were the best, most heartwarming hours of our holiday season! Giving truly is more joyous than receiving. Have a great holiday season this year - and always!