Yakety Santa

By Jeff Davis

Dear Santa Claus:

It’s been a long time! The last time I wrote to you I was in fifth grade and starting to have my doubts about whether it was you or my dad who brought my new five-speed bike that year.

Now that I’m older and wiser by a few decades, I’m writing to thank you for the awesome gift you gave me this year.

As you recall, around August we moved my mother out of our house and into a nursing home. We’d done everything possible for her to live with us for over three year, but we couldn’t provide the type of round-the-clock monitoring and care she needed.

The Birchwood was a brand-new extended-care facility and less than two miles from our house! The place smelled of fresh paint and clean air. My mother was one of the first two people to live in her room. (Her roommate, Miss Helen, also was one of The Birchwood’s first residents.)

I was working from home at the time, writing content for the leading destination on the Web for Information Technology professionals. (I was a nerd writing about tech stuff for other nerds.) I hopped in  my car and stopped by the facility on a daily basis. It was funny that all I had to do was pause in front of the box where the complaint forms were displayed and the staff would say, “Is everything okay? Is there anything we can do to help?” The Birchwood’s owners and operators didn’t like to get complaints.

I quickly found out that when the residents were at lunch or dinner, they were a captive audience. I started putting on my “little skits” and comedy shows for them and noodled on the piano in the cafeteria.

I’d introduce myself to The Birchwood crowd and say, “That’s my mom over there! She’s in room 103 with Miss Helen. Everybody say, ‘Hey, Mom!’” And they would all say “Hey, Mom!” 

One day in December I brought my saxophone with me. I did my usual schtick and got them saying “Hello” to my mom. Then I busted out the alto sax and played “name that tune” followed by some of the old “sax” bits I did when I was a stand-up comedian.

Then out of the blue everything changed. I have a bit where I play “Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph, one of my favorite saxophone players. Some people recognize it as the theme from the Benny Hill Show.

I played “Yakety Sax” and said, “Want to hear me play it faster?” Then one of the residents yelled out “YAKETY SAX!” It was Forrest McKinley. I played the opening riff again, and Forrest yelled out “YAKETY SAX!”

Forrest comes to meals in his wheelchair and gets assistance with eating. He always wears a blue denim Conductor’s Cap and overalls over a crisp white shirt. I always assumed he was a train engineer. He usually sat with head bent slightly down, and I had never heard him speak before.

The nurse’s aide helping Forrest with his meal hadn’t heard him speak much before, either.

I went over to where Forrest was seated and said, “You like that song, Forrest?”

“Oh, yes. Yakety Sax!”

I said, “How do you know that song, Forrest?”

“My son plays saxophone,” he said. 

“Oh that’s great,” I said. “Alto or tenor?”


“Does he have a gig for New Year’s Eve?”  (In my mind, you can’t call yourself an entertainer if you don’t have a show on NYE.)

“He probably does!” Forrest said.

* * *

Santa, I was so freaked out by this “Awakenings” moment I forgot to ask Forrest his son’s name. The next day I asked Mariah, the nursing shift manager, if she could give me Forrest son’s name, or if that’s a HIPAA violation, could she send the guy my number. 

Mariah did a quick check and said that Forrest only had one family member listed, and that was a sister who lives out of state.

I went home on a mission to find the missing son and started googling the heck out of “Forrest McKinley.” Then, lo and behold, I found a Web site and a YouTube page for a named “The Mackey McKinley” trio—with Mackey on saxophones in front of a guitar and drums.

I called the number they use to book gigs and said, “Hey, is this Mackey McKinley, son of Forrest McKinley?”

“Well, yes, who’s this?”

“My name’s Jamie and I’m calling because yesterday I played ‘Yakety Sax’ for your dad!”

“My dad – “

Santa, Mackey paused for a minute and then started crying. He told me he hadn’t seen his dad in 20 years and assumed he was dead. I told him all about The Birchwood.

That Christmas Eve, I went to The Birchwood to pick up my mother for an off-campus visit and you’ll never guess what was going on in the cafeteria, Santa. There was The Mackey McKinley trio, playing a little lunch concert for the residents!

Forrest McKinley was sitting upright, bright-eyed and alert and grinning from ear to ear. When Mackey McKinley started playing “Yakety Sax” I headed to my mother’s room, trying in vain to stop the torrent of happy tears that started when I saw that McKinley father-son reunion.

I don’t know why they were separated for 20 years, but I hope that this was the best Christmas present they ever had, because it’s definitely in my top two. Right up there with that new five-speed bike. 

Cordially and gratefully yours, Jamie

About Jeff

Jeff Davis is an enterprise risk manager by day and a part-time standup comic by night. He loves his wife, their dogs, playing piano, playing saxophone, laughing, and eating and drinking like a pig. He wrote for The Cobb Group and TechRepublic.com, where he had the pleasure of meeting Monsieur Wallen, or as I liked to call Jack, “The Linux King.”

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