There's no fervor like a mother’s love.
That's especially true when that mom, Amber Hennlich, is so tenacious that she would move mountains — even the North Pole — so her 7-year-old son could see Santa one more time before the belief bubble bursts (possibly).
Not just any Santa — or a substitute Santa, or a mall Santa, or an uncle dressed like Santa — but the real Santa, with none other than Mrs. Claus at his elbow, in La Crosse. They are the Clauses whom Hennlich and her son, Aluxton, had come to know and love during his first five Christmas seasons.
The Allen, Texas, woman was so desperate to find the real Claus couple that she posted a plea for help with the search on a Reddit message board in Dallas.
Lo and behold, after dozens of people offered tips, as well as voicing their own frustrations that they couldn’t find that special Santa, either, a librarian happened upon a link to a Nov. 30 La Crosse Tribune story revealing that the real Santa’s workshop is at Downtown Mainstreet Inc.
“I freaked out,” Hennlich said.
She put a finger to the side of her nose and sprang to the computer to book an airline sleigh ride to La Crosse’s snows. Upon learning the trip would cost a thousand a pop, she loosened the reins to find a better option.
The flights of less than $100 to Minneapolis on Saturday were ideal, because the 940-mile flight would leave just a hop, skip and a jump of a road trip to see Santa and the Mrs. — aka Dan and Bonnie Felten of La Crosse.
“It’s worth it just to make it special for him,” she said. “We have a very good life,” and she revels in brightening others’ lives.
Hennlich’s boyfriend, Kevin Somers, who was working in Washington, D.C., that day, said he knew something was afoot when she called him during the workday. They normally don’t call each other at work unless it’s an emergency.
When she asked him, with emotion fluttering in her voice, whether he was interested in a trip to the North Pole this weekend, he knew she already had bought the tickets, he said with a laugh in Santa’s waiting room at DMI.
’I didn’t cry,’ son insists
Santa and Mrs. Claus were as surprised that Hennlich would go to so much trouble to see them as Aluxton had been when she sprung the North Pole idea on him.
Aluxton shed a few tears, she said.
“I didn’t cry!” Aluxton insisted as he colored an image of Carly the Elf (aka Carly Felten), who helps children pass the time when the line is long.
“They were tears of joy,” Mom interjected to salvage his pride him as they warmed themselves from a 20-degree outside temperature that seemed like the North Pole to the Texas lad.
The temperature was 60 when they left Dallas, and Hennlich acknowledged that they’re not used to the chill that enveloped them in La Crosse.
“There was an ice storm in Dallas three-four years ago,” she said, laughing as she added, “It shut down the city for three or four days.”
The Grand Reunion was a sight to behold after Mrs. Claus worked her soothing magic to help Aluxton shed his initial shyness.
Aluxton, whose two favorite subjects in school are art and music, especially enjoyed the activity in which he and the Clauses used brushes with magic colorless paint to coat a rocking horse toy. Santa explained that he still has to work on toys while in La Crosse, because he never knows whether the elves at the alternative North Pole are keeping up the pace before Christmas Eve.
Mrs. Claus then instructed Aluxton to put the toy into a special green bag, while he and Santa waved a snow-topped wand above it and repeated a magical Christmas chant.
When Aluxton retrieved the horse from the bag — voila! — the magic paint had colorized the toy, and a grin spread across his face.
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Everything is magical for the Claus/Feltens, who were visibly honored and touched that the trio had traveled so far for the reunion.
’They are great people’
And Hennlich was beside herself with joy, saying, “It’s clear, they are great people. Every year, they were absolutely perfect” at The Parks at Arlington Mall.
Other Santas sometimes “seemed like they didn’t care,” she said. “But they (the Clauses/Feltens) always showed so much consideration.”
That atmosphere disappeared like St. Nick up a chimney when the mall changed its center attraction to a Shrek theme, with a Santa almost as an afterthought.
The problem was, Santa explained, that Shrek elbowed Mrs. Claus out of the scene like a broken toy tossed into the trash.
“I don’t work without her,” he said, so he put the mall on the naughty list and moved elsewhere.
“I was furious,” Hennlich said of the Shrek takeover and its costly admission. “It was so much commercialization.”
That season, nobody seemed to know where Clauses/Feltens were, although “I called every mall in Texas,” she said.
Finally, she located them at the Hulen Mall in Fort Worth, so they made the 1½-trek to get away from Shrek.
Hennlich wasn’t the only one who made the trip to Fort Worth, Santa said, adding that was a great comfort to him and the missus.
The loving mom was at a loss again last year, when she couldn’t find the real McCoys, and “I had to convince my son that the ‘assistant’ Santa would deliver his message” at still another mall.
Nobody in the Lone Star State knew the couple had built a workshop in the Doerflinger building in La Crosse, where they have a condo because it’s more convenient to the North Pole, the fishing is good and the scenery is outstanding.
After the reunion Saturday, Santa carefully put Aluxton’s list of his three top wishes for Christmas — a parakeet, Legos and Hot Wheels — into the bag where he is putting all the youngsters’ lists for the elves to fill.
Mrs. Claus and Hennlich used the same description of the odds-defying meeting: “a Christmas miracle.”
The three Texans also were able to take in other sights in La Crosse, marveling at Rotary Lights, which they viewed from their rental car during the circular drive and during a stroll through Riverside Park afterward.
Hennlich, a regional sales manager for a building marketing company, said she especially enjoyed seeing the preserved buildings and ornate houses in neighborhoods they toured.
Santa gave Aluxton a special piece of memorabilia before he headed back to Texas via the Twin Cities: a bell from one of his reindeer harnesses.
“He’s a little shy now,” Hennlich said of her son, “but this will be a memory for the rest of his life.”