MEADVILLE — “One day, after a while of this, I went up on the bridge and the captain says (Eldridge raises his voice with an authoritative tone), ‘Eldridge, go down and shave off that beard, and THAT’S AN ORDER!’ ”
So he shaved — end of story.
Well, not entirely the end. Before he shaved he had a picture taken.
Years later, his wife, Mary, saw the photo and became very intrigued.
“After seeing that picture, she kept bugging me to grow a beard, because she thought I looked handsome,” Eldridge said. He was working as a bus driver for school children by then and he didn’t want to show up disheveled and agreed to start growing once school was out. “I’ll grow one for the summer, but I’ll shave it off in September.” Mary got her wish.
When September rolled around he told her it was coming off.
“She said, ‘Oh dear, please keep it at least until New Year’s.’ Well, it takes two to make a marriage,” Eldridge said, so he didn’t shave. “The longer I let it grow the whiter it became.”
The whiter it became the more like Santa he looked.
Then it began. He started getting requests to play Santa. Eldridge was reluctant.
“I don’t know how to play Santa,” he’d tell them, “its not my role.”
He finally broke down after many, many requests.
The first time he did it was for preschoolers and he rented a suit that Mary had to wash beforehand because it was so dirty and smelly. Mary then made him his own suit. A few years went by and he would only play Santa for friends.
Martha Miller, who was the head of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, approached Eldridge with an idea. Santa (Eldridge) could go around town to area businesses to cheer up people during the holidays.