“I cried all the way home,” said Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen, a.k.a Santa
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, has been playing Santa for years. It’s a gig so well-suited for him in every way. He was born on Saint Nicholas Day, and his beard is the real thing. So is his jolly belly, which he says leaves “just enough of a lap for the kids to sit on.”
Just look at him:
He plays roughly 80 gigs a year, ‘Jingle Bells’ is his ringtone, and his wife even plays an authentic Mrs. Claus.
It’s not just his look that embodies the spirit of Christmas though. It’s the love he has in his heart, which was made so very clear by a story he recently told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
A few weeks ago, a nurse from a local hospital in Knoxville called Schmitt-Matzen to tell him there was a very sick five-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa. When he told her he just needed to change into his outfit, she said, “There isn’t time for that. Your Santa suspenders are good enough. Come right now.”
He got to the hospital in 15 minutes and met the boy’s mom, who handed her a toy from his favorite show Paw Patrol to give the boy. Santa went into the room alone after warning the family he would “break down” and not be able to do his job if he saw family members crying.
Here’s the story, as told to The Knoxville News Sentinel:
“When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep. I sat down on his bed and asked, ‘Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas! Why, you’re my Number One elf!
“He looked up and said, ‘I am?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“I gave him the present. He was so weak he could barely open the wrapping paper. When he saw what was inside, he flashed a big smile and laid his head back down.
‘“They say I’m gonna die,’ he told me. ‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’
“I said, ‘Can you do me a big favor?’
“He said, ‘Sure!’
“When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.
“He said, ‘They will?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“He kinda sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more question: ‘Santa, can you help me?’
“I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.
Schmitt-Matzen said when the family realized what had happened, the mom ran in screaming, “No. Not yet!” He said he handed her son back to her as fast as he could and quickly left.
“I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I’ve seen my share of (stuff). But I ran by the nurses’ station bawling my head off,” he said. “I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it.”
“I cried all the way home,” he told The Sentinel. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.”
He almost stopped performing as Santa after the experience, thinking he just wasn’t cut out for it. But when he decided to work one more show, seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces made him realize that he has a role to play, “for them and for me,” he said.