In this time we call Now, there lives a man named Capt. Clayton F. Cisar, a jolly man with a white beard and a robust laugh. Most days he is the Merchant Marine captain of a boat called the Cherry Blossom, which sails the Potomac River.
But each year, around Christmas, when magic touches everyone and everything, Capt. Cisar becomes a Santa Claus. Some parents say when the real Santa is busy making toys and caring for his reindeer he sends out elves to find people willing to play Santa for him.
The elves asked Capt. Cisar 10 years ago to help Santa. Mostly they asked him because he looks like Santa Claus. He has a white mustache and a beard that comes to the middle of his chest. The captain didn't care why the elves asked him; he was just happy to be chosen.
More than anything else, though, Capt. Cisar wanted to be an extra-special Santa Claus. He searched for a way to do that, and soon he found his answer.
"I hired some deaf people to work at the Merchant Marines research laboratory," said the captain, who also manages the lab. "I found out that most deaf people had never been to see Santa Claus when they were children because Santa could not understand them."
Suddenly Capt. Cisar decided he would be a Santa for all children -- including children who cannot hear or speak. People who cannot speak to each other use special hand movements called "sign language" to communicate. So Capt. Cisar went to school at night for a year to learn this language.
Now Capt. Cisar, or Santa Claus, sits on a sleigh inside the Mazza Gallerie shopping mall on upper Wisconsin Avenue NW and talks to deaf children in sign language. His white gloved hands flicker in the air, making letters in fast rhythm.
"Did you think about what you wanted Santa to bring you?" he asked 10-year-old Brian Lachin, a Rockville boy who is deaf.
"A G-man," the boy answered with his hands.
"How about some clothes?" Santa asked Brian's twin brother Bradley, who is also deaf.
"Okay," said Bradley, telling Santa he would like "black, red and brown clothes."
Then Santa took out his little black book in which he keeps notes, and he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake and he knows if you've been bad or good.
"Brian, you are leaving your toys on the floor. You need to clean up every day," said Santa, reading from his book and speaking to Brian with his hands. "You don't go to sleep at night. You can't fly with the eagles if you stay up all night hooting with the owls," he said.
Then to Bradley, Santa said, "You tease your brother and make him mad. You remember the other night you were fighting with your brother about the GI Joe? Well, you have to share."
To both boys Santa said: "Be good boys. Help your mother and keep that bedroom clean."
The boys smiled broadly while a photographer snapped a picture of them with Santa.
"This is the first time I have been to a Santa Claus who could use sign language," Brian said with his hands.
"We always took lists of what we wanted to the other Santas," explained Bradley.
"Ho! Ho! Ho!" Santa said in a loud robust voice that made children who were passing by stop.
Before the twins dashed away, Santa raised one white glove and formed the sign for the letter "M." Then by shaking the "M" back and forth like a bell it became the symbol for "Merry."
Next Santa changed his hand to form the letter "C," and by moving this "C" up and down as if he was stroking a beard, he turned the "C" into the word "Christmas."
"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" Santa yelled with his hands. A happy Brian and Bradley understood. This Santa was very special to them, and they walked away with twinkles in their eyes.