PORT ANGELES — Santa received the ultimate welcome.
He’d just walked into the Rose House bearing a bicycle and a big bag of packages. He set them down next to the Christmas tree — and a blond blur wrapped him in a bear hug.
When that happens, you just have to stop. Which is what the dozen mothers and children did as Zade Wirth, 3, wished Santa Claus a wordless merry Christmas.
Santa, who on other days is appliance technician Steve Porter of Port Townsend, delivered dozens upon dozens of presents Thursday morning to the Rose House, a refuge for women and children who’ve escaped abusive relationships.
The gifts were pleasing — sweet-scented lotions for the moms, dolls for the girls, books and stuffed animals for everyone, a skateboard for 11-year-old Calob Amen.
But it was the mere presence of Santa and his three sidekicks that put the joy on young, and not so young, faces.
“Yay!” Zade said over and over as he brought packages over to his mother, Jackie Rettinger.
Then he saw the red sport-utility vehicle from which Mrs. Claus, aka Juli Bolson of Blyn, was pulling out more sacks of gifts.
Zade wondered: Isn’t Santa supposed to be reindeer-powered?
“Someone drove him, because they were tired. The reindeer worked all night long,” Mom explained.
Onward with the gift-giving. Santa, Mrs. Claus, Gottschalks elf Betsy Fulwider and their intern, 21-year-old Robert Grey of Sequim, pulled out presents and called out names.
Thanks to a flock of sponsors — local people and businesses such as Gottschalks of Port Angeles — Healthy Families of Clallam County organized Santa’s appearance at the Rose House. For Porter, Bolson and Fulwider, this was the second Rose House Christmas in a row.
“When we did this last year, it was the best Christmas I’d had in a long time,” said Bolson, who works at the 7 Cedars Casino in Blyn.
Porter seconded that. He now rents himself out as Santa and spends the revenue on gifts for children who otherwise wouldn’t receive much at Christmas.
Being the big guy “is just a blast,” he said.
When it came time for Calob to unwrap his big gift, Santa told him to hold on.
“Uh-oh. I think I gave you the wrong gift,” he said. “You didn’t want a skateboard, did you?”
Ho, ho, ho. Good one, Mr. Claus.
Next Santa produced an elegant doll, decked out in a crocheted red gown. She was made by Porter’s mother, Peggy Coulter of Port Hadlock.
This is for Natalie from Granny Claus, Santa said. And so 4-year-old Natalie Martinez stepped forward shyly to accept the doll, which like her has long, shiny dark hair.
The presents kept on coming: a tiny pink bicycle with training wheels for Natalie, toys and gift cards and hand-knit hats for all. In the kitchen, Zade test-drove the bike and, on his belly, tried out Calob’s skateboard.
Other kids just hugged Santa and then curled up on the couch with their mothers. Soon it would be time for them to start cooking the Christmas dinner, also provided by Healthy Families’ sponsors.
And before Santa and his entourage went on their way, a few of the women stepped forward. “Thank you. Merry Christmas,” one said, enfolding Santa’s generous girth in one more hug.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at email@example.com.