It was some 70 years ago on Christmas Eve. Cleve Edwards, then 6 years old, sat in the den, anxiously awaiting Santa Claus’ arrival, when he realized the chimney was lit.
Afraid for St. Nick’s safety, Edwards went to the kitchen and filled a big dishpan with water. Stumbling back into the den, his young legs nearly buckling under the weight, he doused the chimney flames.
“My dad wasn’t too thrilled about that,” Edwards told fellow “guests” Wednesday at The Guest House in Gainesville.
He was among about a dozen others who got a visit not only from Santa, but from the entire Foote family — a traveling troupe of Christmas carolers and purveyors of holiday cheer.
The Foote family has been visiting The Guest House — a private, nonprofit agency serving the elderly who have Alzheimer’s or dementia — as part of an annual Yuletide tradition 20 years strong.
Donning artificial elf ears and Santa Claus hats, the Footes sang Christmas songs and passed out gifts. Patients, or “guests,” took turns sitting next to Santa Claus and telling him what they wanted for Christmas.
Dean Foote said he and the family enjoy it.
“We come here, we sing a few songs, and then Santa Claus comes out and talks with the people here,” Foote said.“We get a thrill out of it, and it’s something of a family tradition for us at this point.”
Including Foote and his wife, Sue, there were about 15 members of the family — Foote’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren were in attendance, as well.
Foote said he is a strong supporter of what The Guest House does.
Providing medical care, food and activities for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the agency is open Monday through Friday, offering day care for the elderly.
The Guest House Executive Director Dana Chapman said it means a whole lot to the patients.
“For some of our clients … this is their family. Some of our guests may live alone,” Chapman said. “They might not get a holiday meal. They might not have the opportunity to get out that much. This is their Christmas.”
She said guests like Edwards get to share their childhood stories about Christmas or talk with other members of the Foote family.
“It’s a great time for them,” Chapman said. “We’re always excited to see (the Footes) every year.”