Been 30 years now, but the memory lingers. The recounting of this Yuletide tale still brings my eyes to a salty glisten. I can’t help it. Here then, in my clumsy way, I ascribe it to paper for all skeptics, diluted by the trappings of fat men in red suits, sparkling bobbles on green trees and reindeer with crimson noses.
The saga began during a snappy cool Christmas season in Texas. One evening, as I listened to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas fade on my radio, a deeply resonate voice came on the air.
“I received a call today from a man whose son wants a bicycle for Christmas. Said he has no money. If anyone out there can help, please call.”
His words were a bow pulled across my Christmas Stradivarius. I called. “I’ll provide the bike. Where does it go?”
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The voice of resonant tone thanked me, offered a blessing, and then gave the address.
On Friday, my son Lance and I were watching TV, when my precocious 11-year-old daughter, Candy, came into the room and presented a new challenge.
“Well, I figured it out.” Her statement came with the strong-willed conviction of adolescence.
“Oh, really, what have you figured out, now, Darlin’?”
“There is no Santa. It’s you and Mom.”
I glanced at Lance to gauge his reaction. The look on his face portrayed a mix of shock, concern, and disdain. His older sister had just violated the ancient rules of the Santa Game: Only those who believe get. Would his hoped-for bounty now find repose under a more ardent believer’s green tree?
I had to think fast but, being a salesman, I am well versed in dispelling the objections of a potential buyer. So my retort came without hesitation. “Candy, you’re wrong. Santa is real and I’ll introduce you to him on Saturday.”
She scoffed with a snort and left the room.
Saturday I loaded the family in my Honda and we headed to Northeast Mall. As we entered Sears, Candy said, “I’ve already been to see this Santa. Remember? I sat on his lap — told him what I wanted?”
“That’s not the real Santa.”
Approaching the toy department, I gave the kids an opportunity to do some shopping. “OK, go pick out the best bike in the place — one Lance could ride.”
They returned with a shiny red bike with a banana seat and raised handlebars. “How’s this, Dad?”
“If Lance likes it, I like it. Now, go find another gift you’d like to receive.”
They ran off to pick another present and returned with a large remote control truck.
After paying for the merchandise, we headed back to the car. It was time to find the jolly fat man in a red suit — the real Santa.
We found the apartment complex. It sat in the seediest part of Arlington. The cars parked on the street were mostly dilapidated wrecks in desperate need of major dent repair and gallons of paint. Upon finding the right address, I parked and unloaded my vehicle of kids, bike and truck.
“Okay, Candy, you roll the bike and let Lance carry the truck.”
We made our way to the prescribed apartment number and I knocked. Moments passed, then a man the size of a Dallas Cowboy lineman — must have been 6’4” and 280 pounds — opened the door.
“Boy, you lost or something? This ain’t zactly your part of town.” His gruff tone softened as he noticed the bicycle.
“A babe in a manger sent me over. Here’s the bike you wanted.”
I motioned for Candy to roll the bicycle to the man. She did and Lance followed with the toy truck.
The giant man seemed to melt before my eyes. Tears began to flow down his face and he hugged me, then the kids.
“Thank you, sir. This is a fine blessing.” He then turned to Candy and Lance. “Thank you too, my little ones. And Merry Christmas.” His voice broke.
Without further discussion, Santa and his gaggle of elves headed back to the car. With everyone now installed and buckled in, it was time for me to finish the lesson.
“So, Candy, is Santa real?”
Her eyes were now teary as she stammered, “Yes, yes, Daddy, it’s you.”
“No, sweetie,” I said. “Santa Claus is a spirit, dwelling in every man and woman of good faith who does for others that which they cannot do for themselves. One day I expect you and Lance to show the world your Santa.”
My children, now in their 40s, still believe in the man in the red suit — the real Santa.