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Santa and Barbie and checkers oh, my!
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Aiden Dondero, 7 months, cannot quite get a smile out while posing with Santa for his first Christmas photo during the fourth annual Santa Wonderland, Classic Christmas at Bass Pro Shops. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Hayden Williams looked across the checkerboard at his great-grandmother and pondered his next move.

Red piece diagonally to the right. Captured immediately by the wise woman from Red Bluff who let out a laugh as she took another step toward having another piece crowned.

While it’s a scene that could have easily played itself out in a rural country kitchen, it actually took place at a table in the back of Bass Pro Shops Friday morning – in the shadow of the Santa’s Workshop area of the store that allows for hands-on use of the toys carried by the mega-retailer.

Williams – who hails from Livermore – was being treated to a special trip Friday to receive a bow for his birthday. He got the chance to fire it inside of the indoor range, and actually nailed a target dead center.

With the birthday present that he wanted already in his possession, Williams really had to think about what it was he’d like to open up on Christmas morning.

“I’d want a Nerf gun. That’s it,” was all that he could think of – his bow sticking up out of the corner of the shopping cart. “I got what it is that I wanted.”

Dozens of youngsters lined up to give Santa their wish list for this Christmas, and Camden Cai was beaming from ear-to-ear as he got his complimentary picture and walked away from the jolly man in red.

Camden’s father, Jason, had been itching to visit the sprawling outdoor store after friends from work constantly told him about the amazing interior, and when he learned of the Santa Claus the day after Thanksgiving, he couldn’t pass up the chance.

“I think this whole idea is great. There are things here for the adults and the kids,” Cai said. “It covers such a large demographic. And when you throw in a free photo with Santa it really adds a family dynamic. It definitely lived up to the hype.”

His son agreed, but his mind was still on what he told Santa.

“I want video games this year – Sonic Generation,” the young man said proudly – like he had rehearsed it beforehand. “And an Xbox.”

Over on the opposite side of the toy section, McKenna Wynn laughed while controlling a four-wheel -drive remote-controlled truck over a faux obstacle course while others looked on.

Her uncle – Dale Wiseman – was visiting from Cape Cod, and thought that bringing her down to see Santa would be a fun experience for everybody.

And since Thanksgiving this year also doubled as her birthday, the young girl was still elated from the activities of the day before.

“I got a Barbie Car,” she said. “And for Christmas I want a Barbie RV and the Barbie garden thing that works as a flower pot. And Barbie balloons. I love Barbies.”