It happened on Christmas Eve, last night. It took place in an ordinary Georgia living room. It was late. Elevenish. The Christmas tree was glowing. A space heater was humming.
Five-year-old Samantha was fast asleep on the sofa waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.
They call her “Sam.” The girl has tight brunette curls and eyes like a Kewpie doll. The irony here is that Sam announced back in October that she quit believing in Santa. And to be honest, who could blame her? This year has been ridiculously hard on children.
When the pandemic hit, her dad lost his job. He took a new job driving eighteen wheelers, and it’s been hard on Samantha’s family. Her father has been all over the U.S. this year, far from home. In fact, he almost didn’t make it home for Christmas. This is what earning a steady paycheck looks like sometimes.
“Santa isn’t real,” Sam told her dad over and again.
“Yes he is,” said Dad.
“How do you know he’s real? Have you ever seen him?”
“Well, no, but I’ve never seen a billion dollars, either.”
No matter how her dad tried to convince her, skepticism is a condition that cannot be undone without granite proof. Sam’s dad finally suggested how about Sam stay up late on Christmas Eve to see for herself.
Well, it sounded like a good idea. The only problem was, Sam is a girl with an IQ in the quintuple digits. She was not to be convinced easily.
Even so. Here she was, lying on this sofa, this miniature Doubting Thomas, holding onto a final thread of childhood.
The first noise to waken the girl was a deep rumbling sound. Like a diesel earthquake. This was followed by her dog, growling at the backdoor. The dog’s tail and ears were high.
“Could this be it?” she thought. “Could this be him? No way. Not possible.”
Sam arose. She crept into the kitchen to see what the dog was barking about. She saw the back window darken with a silhouette. Sam froze mid-stride. The backdoor knob turned. The door opened.
Whoever this was obviously had a key. Or was this magic? No. Couldn’t be. Magic is for babies.
A boot eased through the open door. A black boot. The boot was followed by a leg. The leg was succeeded by a hulking figure in a crushed velveteen suit trimmed with arctic fur. He wore a stocking cap.
But here’s the thing. Like I said before, this kid is no fool. Sam’s first reaction was not to break out into a Disney song and start spontaneously dancing to off-broadway numbers. Sam’s reaction was “What do they take me for? A baby?”
Sam believed this was just an elaborate prank on her father’s part. She flipped on the kitchen lights and said in a loud voice, “Stop playing, I know it’s you, Dad.”
This is when it happened.
The guy in the suit turned. Sam saw the man’s face. Her eyes enlarged. This guy was definitely not Dad. This man was old, and weathered, with a REAL beard, and a long white ponytail hanging clear down his back. He had tattoos on his knuckles.
The man said, “Hi there, Sam.”
Almost as if on cue, Sam’s father came wandering out of the bedroom, rubbing his eyes, still wearing boxers and T-shirt.
Sam’s Dad remarked, “Santa, you made it.”
The child could not believe this. Her little mind struggled to piece the events together like a jigsaw. It was inconceivable. It was illogical. It couldn’t be real. This guy had to be a phony. And what was with the tattoos? Sam was not going down without a fight.
The girl crossed her arms and threw out a hip. “If you’re Santa, where’s your reindeer?”
Santa stammered. “Well, uh… I’m not using reindeer this year.”
“No reindeer? Ha!” Sam wasn’t buying this at all. “Why didn’t you use our chimney? And how come you’re not fatter? What about your sleigh? Where’s your big bag of toys?”
“I’m uhh… The thing is…”
“Can I touch your beard?” Sam was dead serious.
Santa exchanged a solemn look with Dad. Dad shrugged. Santa was on his own now.
The old man bent forward. Sam gave the whiskers a tug so hard that somewhere in the universe Natalie Wood smiled. Then, the old man removed his cap for her inspection.
The girl eyed his bald head, observed his wrinkled cheeks, and his tattooed knuckles which read, “L-O-V-E.” And wait a minute, did Santa have pierced ears? Yes! He did! In fact, Santa was a very stout man with broad shoulders and a thick neck. Kind of like a guy you’d see at a Thunder Beach rally saddled on a Harley Softail Standard with a gal riding on the back.
The old man winked an eye at her.
This wink must have done the trick because within that average kitchen, skepticism gave way to childhood wonderment. It was the same sense of awe every that child in this world should be allowed to feel at least once.
All the little girl could manage to do was cover her mouth.
And on Christmas Eve night, the sound of a child’s faith cut the blackness of a dim world when she said, “Oh my gosh. I always knew you were real.”
Santa and the child embraced. The hug was real. The pat on the back was real too. So was the warm smile from Jolly Old Saint Nick as he exited the home with a wave. And so was the deep, earthquaking rumble of Santa’s 455 horsepower Peterbilt eighteen wheeler humming down the street.
“Dad, look!” she said.
“Well, how about that,” said Dad.
Yeah. How about that.