“This is the original one,” said Gail Johnson, holding up a rotund little Santa Claus. “He had Dum-Dum suckers in his bag.”
That’s how her large and still growing collection of Santa Claus figures began. She guesses that she must have been about five years old when she got it.
“How I hung on to it all these years is beyond me.”
Her Dum-Dum Santa looks a little plain in comparison to many of her contemporary collectables, but it claims a special place in her heart.
Her friends and relatives know of her collection and so it grows on her birthday and at Christmas, and any time when someone is off traveling and sees a unique version of St. Nick.
She gladly accepts the gifts, but when she’s shopping for herself, there is an important guide to her selection.
“If I’m picking it out, it has to have a nice face,” she said. “If I like the Santa’s face, then I’ll get it.”
When Gail and her husband, Adam, get away from their Morenci hardware store to travel, they’ll often return with a new Santa.
On an Alaskan cruise a few years ago, they spotted a unique wooden Santa being hugged by a bear. When they attended a niece’s wedding in Buffalo, they discovered a Christmas store and found a tall, thin Santa that added to the diversity of her collection. When traveling through Amish country, they were attracted to an odd Santa whose chubby abdomen is a bell.
As most collectors soon learn, remembering the story behind an item is half the joy of collecting. Gail looks at a figurine of a Santa holding a baby and knows it was a present from Adam at least 20 years ago.
Santa holding a deer and sitting on the world came from her son, Ron, several years ago. So did the Disney Santa, but that was a much more recent acquisition. The ceramic chef came from her sister-in-law. The signed Carruth stone Santa is a gift from her colleague, Jody.
Now her collection grows through gifts from her grandsons who are always on the lookout for something unique to add to Grandma’s collection.
There’s no sign that this collection will be slowing down any time soon. Come December, Santa takes over at the Johnson house.