Santa drives a snowplow.
I know this for a fact: I’ve seen him.
A year after I moved back to Vermont I got my first glimpse of him. The snow had fallen heavily all night and, though it was December, it was already stacked high on the sides of the road.
I’d recently exchanged an apartment in Summerland, Calif., for a cabin at the end of Nebraska Valley in Moscow, Vt.. The address alone sounded redundantly cold and snowy. It was. The cabin was three miles up a dead end road in a narrow, dark valley. On one side, the dirt road dropped off steeply to a rushing brook. After a heavy snow, the hemlock and pine branches would bow down so low it was like driving through a tunnel to get home.
One early morning, I heard the plow grinding its way up the valley, orange lights reflecting off the snow that piled up before its blade.
It had snowed all night and hearing it, I smiled: It would be a powder day. There would be fresh tracks for those who got there first. I’d be there… if the road was plowed.
It was still dark and temperatures hovered around 10 when I bundled up and headed out. I was warming up the car when I saw him come back down the road just as the sky began to lighten. There he was, high up behind the wheel of the plow: an unmistakable white curly beard and wild hair. Rosy cheeks. Piercing blue eyes. No question, it was Santa.
He waved. I waved back. Then he was gone.
The next summer, strange things began to happen. I came back from a two-week vacation and my lawn had been mysteriously mowed. A month later, a mound of dirt and weeds that I’d been wanting to clear became a level parking area.
I called my neighbors, Mike and Sarah, and asked if they were responsible. “Not us,” Mike said. “Our lawn was mowed too.”
That Christmas, Mike and Sarah were home with their two-year-old son Sargent when Santa appeared, unannounced. It was Christmas morning when there was a knock on the door and there he was; barrel-chested with a pot belly, white beard, red velvet suit, boots, a cap and all. Over his back was a pillowcase stuffed with toys — including Sargent’s favorite, a toy chainsaw. And Mrs. Claus, dressed as you’d expect, was right behind.
Santa, it turned out, was our neighbor.
For 25 years Melvin Wells has worked for the town, plowing roads around Stowe. He and his partner, Lois Johnson, own a tract of land on our road and camp out there during the summer in their RV, returning to their home in Morrisville each winter.
Melvin’s resemblance to Santa Claus wasn’t lost on him.
For several years now he and Lois have played the part, dressing up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus to hand out gifts and listen to kids Christmas’ wishes at Veterans of Foreign War halls, hospitals, restaurants and pretty much wherever they are asked. “We sometimes make eight or nine stops in a row going all the way from Morrisville to Stowe,” Melvin says with a grin.
And though they are often offered money or asked what they charge, they have never taken a dime. “We do it because we love it,” says Lois, who is as convincing as Mrs. Claus as Melvin is in his role. Adding, “Santa would never take money.” In addition to all the regular gigs they do, they often choose a family or two who they know are in need and collect and deliver presents to them.
Perhaps their most enduring performance has been at Stowe Mercantile, in the heart of town in early December. They’ve arrived by (plow-drawn) sleigh, they’ve received letters from kids, they’ve held countless of youngsters on their laps. And for every kid who visits Santa, the shop has donated $10 to go to the Lamoille County Food Share. Last year, the store donated more than $2,000.
This past year, Sargent was old enough to head down to the village to see Santa. It took some explaining that Santa didn’t always make house calls and didn’t always drive a snowplow.
The line was long, but Sargent peered past the crowd to catch a glimpse of the white-bearded man in the red suit. “Hey,” Sargent said in a loud voice as he pointed to the man with the kid in his lap, “that’s Melvin.”
There was a hush. Kids turned around. Parents frowned.
“Santa, Melvin—it’s kind of the same thing,” Mike whispered to his son.
That couldn’t be more true.