When you're a little kid, Santa Claus can be scary looking fellow -- especially with his long, white beard.

If the beard comes off Santa, the question is -- why?

That was my dilemma as a 4-year-old as Christmas approached.

My family lived directly across from an airport where two-engine airplanes took off and landed in Lorain. My mom, Bettie, spotted a note in the local newspaper that Santa would be parachuting out of a plane and landing at the airport. So when the time arrived, we watched through our front window using binoculars.

Santa apparently leaped out of the plane too early, though, and landed in a wooded area behind the landing spot. As he drifted through the air, we could see that his beard was in place, but when he emerged from the woods, his beard had been torn off during the rough landing.

"Why did Santa's beard come off?" I asked my mother.

Mom usually had a good answer for everything. This time, though, she was understandably speechless about what to tell her little boy. She said she didn't know.

Despite the awkward landing, Santa appeared to be in good shape, which was comforting to me. He is a man who universally brings hope and happiness to children -- when you get past the initial fear of greeting him when you're a young child.

I remember my father, Mike Lesko II, telling me how he was wary of Santa when he first spotted him as a young boy.

Maybe that happens to a lot of people. I experienced the same thing, and so did my son, Michael, who now is 14.

AFTER realizing that Santa was an OK guy, though, young Michael was intrigued by that long beard, which he often tried to pull when he was little. Usually, the beard didn't budge, which was fortunate.

I recall how young Michael, seated on Santa's lap, kept turning around to check him out, which was always cute.

We have photos of Michael and Santa. Once, Santa, as a wood carver, gave Michael a carving of a small wooden wagon, which we still have.

When I was young, I always wondered how Santa found the time to visit all those homes around the world. Or how he knew exactly what I wanted for presents.

Somehow, though, he did.

My son found that out -- just as most every little kid does -- and eagerly awaited his arrival. Sometimes, the anticipation was so great that Michael did not want to go to sleep.

"Michael, Santa won't come to our house unless you're asleep," my wife, Lori, would tell him, and he was soon headed to dream land.

I remember my mom telling me the same thing.

My most vivid memory of Santa occurred when I was 5.

We left a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on the dining room table for Santa on Christmas Eve in case he was hungry during his long journey.

On Christmas morning, I was amazed to find that Santa had consumed the cookies and milk -- and even written a thank you note -- in addition to bringing some cool presents, which included his name on the gift tags that were taped to the boxes.

Yep, Santa is a pretty special guy -- even when he does occasionally lose his beard.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187