Christy and Kaylee Risher were right: That guy in the red suit with sunglasses was not the real Santa.
But they had no idea who he really was until their father, Army Capt. Josh Risher, removed his glasses and beard and revealed himself Wednesday afternoon during Windsor Elementary School’s holiday play.
After spending a year deployed in South Korea, Risher returned a day before Kaylee’s 6th birthday and just in time to celebrate Christmas with the family.
“I feel so good. It was an early Christmas miracle,” 8-year-old Christy said.
Never miss a local story.
The girls had no suspicions, they said. They didn’t even catch the sound of their father’s voice when he first spoke to them. But their mouths dropped open in unison when his disguise came off and the surprise hit them. Then they hesitated just a moment before draping their arms around him in glee.
Risher’s wife, Amanda, could hardly hide her emotions, not wanting to give away the surprise, as her daughters sat huddled next to her on the cafeteria floor during the play. It was the hardest secret she had ever had to keep, she said.
“We’re going to have a great Christmas,” Amanda Risher said. “I don’t have to get them one present because their daddy is going to be home, and that’s all they care about.”
The couple had been telling the girls and their 3-year-old brother, Jack, that their dad likely wouldn’t be home until just a day or so before Christmas.
Josh Risher arrived in Columbia on Tuesday night and stayed with his parents to keep his secret. Windsor staff helped arrange the surprise, planning for Risher to play the role of “Rock and Roll Santa” in the school’s holiday play.
“It was worth one more night spending the night at my parents’ house to be able to see the look on these girls’ faces today, the utter look of shock and disbelief,” Risher said. “It was great.”
Risher was deployed a year ago, a day after Kaylee’s 5th birthday. He was able to talk to and see the family regularly via Skype, and he took a two-week break at home over the summer.
“I was so sad he had to go again,” Christy said.
Risher’s next transfer is to Fort Campbell in Kentucky, where the family will move the day after Christmas.
The year without him was challenging, Amanda Risher said, but “it was a great big growing experience for everyone.”
“I really wish I could have been there just to hold hands, to have a shoulder to lean on,” Josh Risher said. “That’s the tough part.”
Christy said she’s missed having her dad around to help take care of the family and the household and do things such as make chicken on “Salad Saturdays” for dinner. She said she’s looking forward to going fencing with him and to spending time with him in the mornings when they’re both getting ready for their days.
“It’s so fun having my dad home,” Christy said.