I remember the sound of the doorbell in our house on Kitchen Street – east Jonesboro’s first attempt at suberbs Shortly after 7 PM, a week before Christmas, it rang.
“Wonder who that could be?” Dad said it like he knew already. He opened the front door wide.
“Why look who’s here, boys.” Dad stepped back and standing in our door was Santa himself.
My brother and I were awestruck, frozen in place. I was 8, he was 6.
“Come right in, Santa.” At Dad’s invitation, he stepped into the living room. He looked just like the Santa alive from the pages of our “Night Before Christmas” book.
“Well boys, aren’t you going to tell him “hello”? Still transfixed, we answered my Dad with high pitched mumbles just over a whisper. “Hi, Santa.”
“Hello, my good young men,” he boomed. His voice filled the room.
“Let’s see…now you are Matthew and you are Chris.” How could he have known our names? He must be Santa.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the North Pole – getting everything ready?” I blurted it out. He had so many children who were expecting toys and time was running out!
“I have the elves working on all that,” he explained. “We will be ready by Christmas Eve.” (What was I thinking…of course the elves!)
“But I like to visit a few of my favorite children right before Christmas. And you two have been very good.”
(Favorite? Very Good? I could think of a Santa sack full of not-so-good. What could have happened to move me from the “naughty” to “nice” list. Better not bring it up.)
He plopped down on the couch. “Come tell Santa what you want this year. Let’s just see if these are still right.”
Out of his pocket, he pulled two sheets of paper. He had our letters. I could see the drawing I had done at the bottom of mine. And…we sat in the car and watched Dad take our North Pole bound lists into the post office to be mailed. He must be Santa!
“Those are our letters,” we shouted. We watched him as he carefully examined them, stroking his beard as he read.
“Quite a few things here, but Santa will see what he can do.” He chuckled, eyes twinkling.
“I have a few more stops to make tonight:” He was on his feet, boots slapping on hardwood.
“Come give Santa a hug.” We finally moved, perhaps the stillest we had been in our lives.
He took us in his big arms and squeezed. (I am actually hugging Santa. Just wait till Monday and I tell my class that Santa came to my house….and he knew our names…and he had our letters. And that stuff Jimmy was saying about Santa being your parents was a bunch of hooey!)
Mom came in from the kitchen with cookies wrapped in aluminum foil. “Here you are Santa. You will need these on your trip back to the North Pole.”
“Why Gertie, I always look forward to your cookies. Hoped you saved some for Christmas Eve.”
(He knew my mom’s name! He never left a crumb on the Christmas Eve cookie plate! And the milk glass was always empty! Way to go, Mom! Be nice to Santa and he’ll be nice to you….)
He turned. Opened the door. Laid a finger to the side of his nose and offered a farewell salute. He was gone.
“How about that boys?” Dad was laughing. My mother was laughing. My brother and I were jumping up and down, doing runs around the living room, chanting, “Santa, Santa, Santa, Santa…..
“Wait a minute.” Dad interrupted our frivolity- his serious tone.
“What’s that sound?” He cocked his ear toward the ceiling.
We froze. Thumping on the roof – reindeer hooves for sure. And Bells – sleigh bells ringing in the distance.
We ran to the window but could see nothing. We ran outside looking in every direction. Santa had disappeared. The reindeer had disappeared. The sleigh bells were silent.
(Just wait till I presented this evidence to the 4th grade Santa agnostics.)
One Christmas, later in our lives, Dad revealed the facts about that night. Santa had been his close friend, Lloyd- what magic Lloyd left in the hearts of the children he visited that year. My father had pocketed the letters once he got inside the post office and passed them to Lloyd. As for the reindeer and sleigh bells, Lloyd had tossed rocks on the roof and jingled some bells before he had ducked into our garage.
But for two little boys, Dad had given us a gift- a reason to believe in the spirit of this remarkable season. And that gift for which I am so grateful is still in me today. As is the young boy who still finds wonder in Christmas lights and music. Trees and yards decorated in red and green and white. Special time with friends. The bounty of holiday treats. A chance to share the blessings God has poured into my life with others. And the greatest gift of all- faith in a very special Child laid in a faraway manger on the first Christmas night who would be the Savior of the world and of that boy grown to be a man.