Santa Scott led life of quiet service

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 22, 2008

This column first appeared before Christmas 1987 and has been repeated each December since.


Since Christmas will be here and gone before I’m even ready for it to be December, I want to force myself to pause today, and remember John Scott.

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John Scott and I weren’t close friends or anything, although I guess we could have been if I’d made the effort. We just saw each other a lot.

John drove the city water truck.

That’s where I saw him the most.

Early in the morning when I was coming to work at the newspaper, he’d be finishing up spraying off the city streets. John died a few years back.

His truck was a lumbering white monstrosity. To look at him, you’d think John was, too. He was big, like the truck and like it as well he usually moved at a measured pace. But he didn’t sputter and foam. John Scott was a gentle man and a gentleman. He never lost his cool.

John had other jobs, too. He was active in his church, working mostly with the young people. One tale told about him regards a young man at a church function who became a bit too uppity for John’s tastes.

The way I heard it, John didn’t say a word. He just collared the teen and lifted him about 2 feet off the ground, moved him away from the place where he was making trouble and put him down again.

There wasn’t another peep.

Lesson offered. Lesson learned.

John was also often seen at late night fires out in the county. In those days, the city’s water truck was the biggest liquid-carrying contraption around. Firefighters answering calls to rural locations would often radio back for him, by name, when they saw their supply of water would be exhausted before the flames were put out.

What everyone who monitored the airwaves knew from hearing John’s name was that the fire was serious if John and his tanker truck were needed.

Those were the days before overtime for city workers. But John Scott always responded immediately.

John lived way down in the south part of the county at Redbone. His water truck was in town. More often than not, the fires had started in heaters or fireplaces on very cold nights and because it was so cold, John had left his tanker truck empty, lest the contents freeze.

He’d drive the 15 miles to town, get his tanker and go to a hydrant to fill it up. Only then could he head fire-ward.

But he’d make it, the little red bubble light atop the cab whirring as furiously as it could, dwarfed by the streamers of piercing red and white light coming from the more modern fire engines.

But fancy or not, sometimes his truck and its water supply made the difference for a homeowner.

John rarely said a word.

Just glad to help, if he could.

It’s taken me a while to get to this part, but maybe it’ll help explain why I want to think about John Scott now when I tell you he was also Vicksburg’s A-No. 1 Santa Claus. Not at malls or anything. There were none. John was booked for all the parades, and at all the churches. Merchants, on the sly, would dispatch him to nursing homes laden with fruit and little gifts.

And nobody I ever saw — or perhaps ever will see — filled a pair of shiny black boots better. See, John didn’t just put on a suit.

He became Santa Claus.

His eyes had the twinkle, his laugh had the depth, his smile and embrace had the warmth.

And he could light up a room, or thrill an audience just by his presence.

And then as quickly as he had appeared, he’d depart.

And the next morning I’d see him in his water truck, back to making slow and silent predawn rounds.

The reason I want to remember John Scott today is pretty simple. My holiday seasons, which pass ever-quickly, are made ever-so-much richer when I stop to think about John and the kind of man he was.

And when I’m in this line or that, being pushed and jostled while doing my regular pressure-shopping thing, I don’t want to lose sight of John and the way he led his life.

John Scott had the true spirit. And not just during December.


Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail