Shawn Brimley and his son Austin dressed up as Santa in the house of DC widow Marjorie Brimley

Santa Shawn

I can’t actually remember why we decided to throw our first Christmas party, but I do remember this: Shawn was adamant that he was going to dress up like Santa for it.  He spent hours scouring the internet for the perfect outfit and he even bought new shoes and tiny fake eyeglasses.  He tried on the outfit before the party and decided that his dark eyebrows gave him away, so he went to the drugstore and bought a white makeup pencil which he used to color in his eyebrows.

He took it all very seriously.  “You know the kids are TWO,” I told him, “so you don’t have to do all this.  They’re just going to be excited that Santa is here.”

“It’s not just for them,” he said, “all of our friends will be here.  I have to be convincing!”

I laughed at him, but as with everything, I just let him be as ridiculous as he wanted to be.  Once, right when we first started dating, Shawn’s sister Sarah-Jane told me that one of the things she liked the most about my relationship with Shawn was that I enjoyed watching him do completely off-the-wall things and never tried to make him be more civilized or “normal.”

Maybe that’s one of the reasons our marriage worked.  I certainly didn’t ever make him stop telling inappropriate stories and I never asked him not to dress up in silly costumes for virtually every party.  But it wasn’t because I was some saintly wife.  I liked that part of him – the part that really didn’t care what other people thought.  It takes a certain kind of man to dress up and convincingly act like Santa.

In any case, the party that first year party was a huge success.  Lots of our friends came and Shawn slipped out of the party to get in his costume as it grew dark outside (“I’m going to get ice!” he always announced.)  When it was time, he knocked on the front door and all of the kids started screaming with joy.  A few of them also cried because hey, Santa is scary to some kids!  So Shawn had to temper a bit of his excitement.

Still, he was so full of life.  He was ALWAYS so full of life, but never more so than when he was surrounded by a group of kids who thought he had magical powers.  Oh, he relished every single moment.

One of my friends wrote me the other day about this first party and the ones that followed.  “Shawn was so great to all kids – not just his own. And OMG the side jokes for the grown-ups! I found myself watching you as much as I watched him those evenings.  I loved seeing the joy on your face as he cracked us all up.”  Another told me that she loved how Santa “always found a chance to flirt with Marjorie while her husband was out ‘getting ice for the party.'”

God, I remember that.  His jokes were usually over the kids’ heads, just a bit sexual or otherwise inappropriate, and he always made me sit on his lap while he talked about how lovely I was looking that night.  “I wonder if Mrs. Claus will want to go to bed early tonight with Mr. Claus?” he would say with a grin on his face.  That always got a laugh, including from me.

He indulged all of the kids and listened to each of them intently.  As they got older, and more suspicious, he had elaborate stories that he crafted to throw them off.  But really, we all knew that the role he played as Santa was as much for the adults as it was for the kids.

Shawn was fun.  He was the life of the party and he made parties like these come alive.  But what I remember most about those parties is how he always looked at me.  How his eyes twinkled, just like a real Santa, when he told jokes that made me blush.  How he asked, at the end of every party, “was Santa okay this year?” just so I would pull him close and tell him, “you were perfect.”

I miss watching the gazes of the kids as they looked up at Santa.  I miss the laughter of the other parents.  I miss the pillow Shawn used to stuff in his belly to look more realistic.

But mostly I miss the twinkle in his eye.  The one that said, “you’re my girl, Mrs. Claus.”


  • Erin

    I remember and loved that first Christmas party with Santa – Shawn was hilarious and so full of FUN and made everyone around him smile and feel joy. I still remember how a few families ALL sat on Santa’s lap so the 2 year old felt less frightened of Santa – and Shawn was so funny though it all. ❤️

    • Marjorie

      Oh yes, I remember that too!! I loved going through all of these old photos – it was heartbreaking and also I laughed so much. I guess that’s how it always is when I remember the best parts of Shawn.

  • Anne

    I just started reading your blog. I became a widow 10 yrs ago also with 3 young children. What I enjoy about your blog is the way you remember and share the person your husband was. I share stories frequently with my kids about their goofy, smart, creative, do-the-right-thing dad. Instead of being sad, they love all the stories and it helps me stretch the memories. Please keep writing, even if it’s just to record memories for your children to keep for later.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much for writing this – I actually started the blog just so I could communicate with all of the people who wanted to make sure I was okay, but it slowly morphed into a recording of Shawn (and me) for the kids. Now I just write, about everything, but I’m hopeful the kids will appreciate it someday too.

  • Ian

    THE time I laughed the hardest at Queen’s was because of Master Brimley. We’d spent s few hours at a party jamming on guitar and he told me two stories that – to this day – bring me to tears, laughing.

    Can’t mention them here, but rest assured it’s apparent his sense of humour stayed very much intact once he settled in D.C. When I get sad about losing touch and losing him, I think of that night.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I can’t wait to hear this story in person someday. I know a lot of people who’ve laughed the hardest around Shawn – he had that magic to him. Thanks so much for sharing that here!

  • Vidita Vaidya

    How amazing it is what you share. My daughter asked if she could bite my nail today as she had bitten all of hers. They she told me a fast one about Daddy letting her bite his nails. Yeah Right!!
    I missed him so acutely cause we would have looked at our 13 year old trying to pull a fast one. Part of me is happy that she is doing okay and that she can be absurd 2 months after what she has lived through and the other part of my heart breaks because he is not with me to watch her. She is two months older and he isnt here to see his baby girl. Thank you for your words. I find myself gravitating to your blogs these days because somehow, somewhere I feel that things will be okay and finding your blog has been part of that. So thank you.

    • Marjorie

      Thank you, truly, for sharing this with me. Sometimes I’m not totally sure why I’m writing this blog, but then I get comments like this and it makes me feel like I’m so glad that I’m doing it. Take care – I love hearing from you.

  • Sheryll Brimley

    Love this Marjorie.
    Santa Claus came to visit Greenacres this weekend. I was concerned that maybe his “ho-ho-ho” wasn’t going to be as jolly as other years. But Santa was the best! Made all of our adult friends laugh with tears of joy. When I sat on his knee I whispered that he was doing great. His response?
    “There is another Santa helping me out”

  • Jerry

    Watching Shawn get Richard to sit on his laugh at work and tell him whether he had been a good little boy will always be a treasured memory.

    • Marjorie

      I wish I had seen it! It’s become such an epic story in the national security world. I love hearing about all the funny antics Shawn pulled at work. He was one of a kind!

  • Nicole

    You two fit so much joy, laughter and fun into your life together. It’s really so beautiful. I love these stories!

  • Michael

    “When I sat on his knee to say what a great job he was doing, he whispered, ‘Another Santa is helping me.’”
    — DC Widow, December 2018

    This is how memory
    turns on itself, from
    whiplash to a freezing splash
    like waves that churn past river rafts.

    One legendary
    family Santa dead
    near-instantly a year ago,
    leaving three Bing and Grondahl

    children and a
    shell-shocked wife. His sister
    outlines how his antic ways
    just propagated when her spouse

    pulled on the red suit
    stuffed with pillows for
    their own enchanted kids.
    A Dickens starring happy ghosts.

    A journey back
    from anguish towards another place,
    where radiant moments start to breathe again
    and may reverberate.