Pilot story and photos by Lynn Davis
As in years past, Santa made his first official visit to town by sea, instead of by sky.
The big guy, along with his wife, Mrs. Claus, and two of his favorite elves, were chauffeured by boat to the port Sunday evening, courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
As the foursome set foot on land, they were greeted with giggles and hugs by a mob of excited children.
"I liked coming to Brookings and visiting all of the children," Santa explained. "The children were exceptionally nice, and polite, and said a lot of "thank yous."
Mr. Claus added, "I would like to thank the Coast Guard for bringing us in, and thanks to the port for allowing us to put on the display."
Although this is their busiest time of year, Santa and his family always schedule time to stop by for a pre-Christmas chat with area youngsters. This year marks the ninth annual "Santa at the Port" event, organized by Chetco Village Merchants Association. For three years, his arrival has nicely coincided with "Lighting of the Port", sponsored by the Port of Brookings Harbor.
A number of people, more than 250, turned out for the celebration, despite the chill and light rain they braved to be a part of it all. The day was split in two, with parents bringing their young ones to see Santa from 5 to 7 p.m. and, from 7 to 9 p.m., there was an influx of a more adult crowd, coming to sing solo, or with a group, to hum along with traditional season jingles as they shopped the stores, or just to hang out with friends and family to the vocal stylings of Sea Breeze, Soundwave, and Brookings-Harbor High School choirs.
Becky Olsen brought her two children, Erik and Elizabeth, to the port for a night of caroling. She said of the event, "I think it's wonderful! It's a great start to the holiday season. It brings people together, and it's a lot of fun."
Disc Jockey Eric Phillips, from Fort Dick's Seawest Entertainment, spun popular music all afternoon and into the evening, in addition to running a karaoke machine for gutsy vocalists.
Solo-performances, like that of Brookings-Harbor High School senior Matt Cooper, had spectators wondering if they had been transported to a episode of "American Idol" or "Star Search."
As Cooper began his tear-jerking rendition of Sublime's ballad, "One Cup of Coffee," a hush fell over the audience so thoroughly that, in a sea of more than 100 spectators, one could hear the trickling sound of light rain in between the notes of his a capella performance.
Emcee for the event, Patrick Nied of Harbor View Windows, Heating, and Air, was amazed by what he had heard, as was most of the audience. "What a voice that young man has! He did that without music, or words, or anything!"
Also stunning the audience with her talent was soloist Crystal Wilkinson, who sang "Eyes on Me," from the video game soundtrack, Final Fantasy 8. Her performance, too, generated comments like, "Who would have thought so much talent could be found in such a small town?" and "Wow!" The kicker came when she went back on stage 10 minutes later to sing the song in Japanese.
Featured school choirs wowed the audience further, and easily held their rain-soaked attention for another hour or two.
"I think we had more people this year," Nied commented. "I think the kids enjoyed it, and that's what it's all about."
Three year-old Emma Rhodes put the whole thing in perspective when she decided to ask Santa for something special for Christmas. She explained, "I satted on SanCauses lap!" When asked what she requested he bring her a puppy, a doll, a pony she quietly replied, grinning from ear to ear, "a candy cane." The little girl added emphatically, "And I got one."
Another special request came from five year-old Kyle LaFazio. "I said I wanted a DVD, and I asked him for a DVD for my brother in Iraq."
His father, Gary LaFazio, explained, "His oldest brother has been stationed in Iraq since April."
Children also asked Santa for the usual. His ear was filled up with requests for puppies, ponies, skateboards, and scooters, and everything in between.
After a turn on Santa's lap, most of the children made a beeline to a table where cookies and cider, donated by Espresso Gallery, were being served by elves.
Many merchants stayed late into the evening, treating caroling shoppers to special deals and friendly conversation as they meandered from store to store, enjoying the ambiance of the evening.
"It was a great start to the holiday season!" explained Gail Scriven, owner of The Book Dock. "Everyone enjoyed the music, cookies and cider and, particularly, Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves' arrival on the Coast Guard boat. Hopefully, by Kris Kringle weekend, the port will have more lights, and the boat owners will light their boats."
Marketing director for the Port of Brookings Harbor, Nita Rolfe, explained how several factors, including bad timing, electrical problems, and a shortage of lights and donations to the project, contributed to the decrease in festive decor seen during the port's holiday kickoff weekend.
"Our staff has been working so hard preparing for the beginning of crab season," she said. "The guys with the required equipment normally would be available to help us put up the lights, but they have been working overtime, seven days a week. Last year, we had more time to work on a display, because we held the event about a week before the (crab) season started."
Rolfe hopes to inspire community members to participate in an ongoing effort to brighten the port's holiday spirits. She said, "We will continue to put up as many lights as we can get. We would love to see the whole port lit up!"