His Santa Moment

An end to Broward's Miracle on 34th Street is in sight

Santa is frantic. Pacing through the living room of his red-and-green-and-gold Christmas-spangled home in an absolute dither. The cause of his distress? Barbie, a doll that has held an enviable position on Christmas wish lists for generations. A Santa must-have. And a mere week before Christmas, Santa's major problem.

Out in the garage of this modest ranch home in Pompano Beach, toys are stacked to the rafters. There are Star Wars figurines, Simpsons' stuff, a box full of plush teddy bears. But they won't do. "I've got 150 black children and no black Barbies!" Santa wails. He seems about ready to burst into tears. "I need black Barbies!"

Mrs. Claus lifts her eyes from a guest seated at the dining-room table to the flushed Santa, gazing at him with benevolent indulgence.

She is the calm counterpoise to Santa's cataclysms, as well as the go-between, the interpreter, the facilitator, and the organist.

"They still love Barbie, even after all these years," she explains before turning to the desperate Santa with gentle assurances. "I'm sure these children will be happy with whatever they receive," she tells Santa. "After all, these are children who wouldn't have had any Christmas without us."

After decades of delivering Christmas cheer to children bereft of toys, Bill Jaycox has a hard time knowing when or where to draw the line. He has been South Florida's Santa for 37 years. The U.S. Post Office in Broward County even delivered mail addressed to Santa to him for 15 of those years.

When first contacted by New Timesseveral weeks before Christmas, Jaycox said he and his wife, Joanne, were preparing to retire completely from their Santa and Mrs. Claus work. Joanne, 68, injured her leg in a fall last year, and Bill, 70, needs eye surgery.

"We were planning to decorate our house, have some neighbors over for eggnog, put our feet up, and have a normal Christmas like everyone else," he says after settling into a chair following his Santa moment.

Pause.

"But how can you do that when you have all these generous people willing to give so much?" Jaycox implores.

There are five frozen turkeys on the kitchen counter waiting to be lugged to a homeless shelter, the garage is full of toys, and an annual "Breakfast with Santa" scheduled for Saturday at the Pompano Beach Civic Center will bring in even more booty.

And so this year, as they have for the 26 years since they met, the Jaycoxes will spend their Christmas channeling the spirit of Santa and Mrs. Claus by, as Jaycox is fond of saying, "taking from the rich and giving to the poor." For them, this Santa thing approaches a religious vocation.

Dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus, the couple has appeared at local conventions, parties, and corporate events since 1976.

Santa has sung specially scripted Christmas songs (his other gig has been as Clancy the Irish Troubadour). Mrs. Claus has played the organ. They have danced. They have posed for pictures. They've given speeches about the true meaning of Christmas. For payment, they have asked for toys. Learning of the couple's work, local schools have run toy-collection drives. Their neighbors, businesses, and service clubs have made donations.

The couple has farmed the bounty out to boys and girls clubs, shelters for abused women and homeless families, and families in need. They have visited local nursing homes and hospitals. And every year, they have climbed into a bright red pickup truck and made a trek on the morning of Christmas Eve to bring toys and Christmas turkeys to migrant children and their families through a mission in Delray Beach. They have never made a penny from their work. Before retirement, Bill worked as a bartender and Joanne as an office manager for Midas Muffler.

"We have not been blessed with a lot of money, but we have been blessed with people who have helped us," Joanne says. "It is the sincerity of how we do it, I think, that just inspires people to want to help in some way.

Even the postmaster acknowledged that the couple embodied the generous spirit of giving. After a meeting with Bill in 1975, the postmaster delivered all the mail in Broward County addressed to Santa Claus to the Jaycoxes. It had been discarded. Each year, Bill and Joanne answered more than 1,500 letters from children. To those that included a return address, they would enclose a certificate of good behavior, a form letter, and often a hand-penned note. "Eat your vegetables" was an oft-used admonition. And when they received an especially poignant letter, Bill and Joanne frequently dressed up in their red costumes and paid a visit.

In 1977, 3-year-old Freddie Caruso wrote Santa Claus a letter. Freddie's father had been permanently disabled in a workplace injury, and Freddie asked that Santa heal him. Santa wrote back saying he would pray for Fred Sr. Several days after receiving the missive, Joanne stopped by the Carusos' house with a bag of toys for Freddie and his sister.

Every Christmas after that, the Jaycoxes stopped by Freddie's house in costume. One time they arrived in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce limousine. Freddie would send the couple his report cards. One year, the boy helped wrap gifts for migrant children.

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