Sunday, December 22, 2013

The real Santa

Most folks who know me, know that if you catch me in the right mood, I can tell quite the story. Today, I'd like to tell one of my very favorite stories.

Favorite, and true.  

This is the story of the time I got to meet the real Santa Claus.

I'd like to tell you that I got to meet the real Santa while I was young enough that he was still bringing me presents.  A cute story about waiting up and seeing Santa sneak in. Sadly, I never managed to stay awake long enough. As a matter of fact, when I finally met the real Santa, I was 6 months out of High School and fairly convinced that Santa wasn't real. It was hard to say when I had stopped believing, but somewhere along the line, I stopped believing almost completely.

Like a lot of folks, my parents had tried to insist that the santa in the mall was the real Santa. Of course, that's just silly. Santa just doesn't have the time to hang out at the mall for photo-shoots. Some years I wouldn't get what was in my letter. And of course, I never did figure out how he could come in if we didn't have a chimney. Over the years, those sorts of inconsistencies made me question whether or not Santa was even real. 

So there I was, no longer a child.  No more presents under the tree.  I was 19 years old, and working a seasonal job at one of the big national chain department stores. Sure, we'd had a "store santa," but he was just as fake as the one at the mall. He was nice enough, and he looked the part, but you could just tell. The magic just wasn't there.  

Now, I've mentioned that Santa doesn't have time for photo-shoots, but Santa isn't the only one with a limit on his free time. The elves must be short on time as well, because they only make toys. When Santa wants to give gifts to his friends, it seems that he has to go buy them like the rest of us. That's how I came to meet him.

I was working my way through a cart full of items that customers had left abandoned at the registers, or dumped in the wrong area, carefully putting each one back where it belonged, when I happened to look up and see an amazing sight. Just a short distance away was a man in a suit. He was an older gentleman, with long white hair, and a full beard, silver-white. Not terribly tall by today's standards, and quite heavy. He had a full belly, rosey cheeks, and arms that had known their share of lifting. He even had on half moon glasses with gold frames.

And of course, there was the suit...

I know what you're thinking, but this suit wasn't red.

It wasn't fuzzy.

It didn't have white fur trim.

This suit, had class.  

You see, he wasn't wearing his driving suit. There's no frigid arctic wind while you're shopping at a department store. So, instead of being dressed in red and white fur, this gentleman (and I say gentleman because there was such an air of gentleness about him that no other term would fit) was wearing a flawlessly tailored three piece suite. This suit wasn't just tailored to fit, either. You could see, in the way the suit fit and hung perfectly, that this suit had been made by hand, the old fashioned way, by a real tailor. (or maybe an elf) It was green plaid, struck through with lines of red and gold.  His shoes (you don't need boots when you're not working around the reindeer) were patent leather. In the pocket of his waistcoat he carried a gold pocket watch, with a gold chain strung across to the buttons.

Even the most jaded grown up would have looked at this man, and thought, "my goodness.  If ever I saw the real Santa Claus, this good and gentle soul was him." 

He wasn't singing carols, or laughing, or really drawing any attention to himself at all.  He was just going about his own Christmas shopping, picking out gifts for friends, and walking around the department store in high style. Of course, I wasn't the only person who took notice of this singular individual.  A little girl, not more than 3 or 4 years old, looked to him with wonder and awe. She knew immediately, what I was beginning to suspect, and she was pleading with her mother to let her go and see this man.

Her mother, being older, more skeptical, and generally less able to recognize the sort of wonder and magic that surrounds someone like Santa, tried to hold her daughter back. However, the little girl soon pulled free, and ran towards the man in the wonderful suit. As it happened, I was only a few feet away when the little girl caught up with him.  He had stopped to inspect a book that was for sale, and she grabbed the hem of his suit coat and tugged until he looked down.

He didn't ask her name, or tell her to go away. He was quiet, and gentle, and simply smiled while he waited for her to speak. After a few seconds, which seemed to stretch on forever, the little girl asked the man in an awe-struck whisper, "are you the real Santa Claus?"

What a difficult position for him to be in! He couldn't possibly say, "Yes, child, I am the real Santa Claus," because then the whole store would be running to him and he'd never get his own shopping done. Likewise, he couldn't deny it, because as we all know, Santa can't lie. 

Instead, smiling the same kindly smile the whole time, he reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat, pulled out a beautiful red and white candy cane, leaned down to the little girl, and winked as he gave her the candy.

The little girl hugged his leg, and then ran back to her mother, giggling.

I lost track of him a few minutes later. He had shopping to do, and I had work to do. It was a shame, but life works out that way some times. It would have been nice to have a chance to stop and talk, but I'll never forget that just once, I got meet the big man.