Sunday, November 13, 2011

I Heard Sleigh Bells

She must have been about four, old enough to go shopping with mommy but still too young to make the entire trip without being carried to the car afterward. She was holding her mother's hand, waiting, as was I, for the Portland Williams-Sonoma to open. If the holidays are magical -- and for me they definitely are -- Williams-Sonoma has a corner on the market. From peppermint hot chocolate to china to cookie and pie cutters (my target purchase this time) -- I wonder sometimes if they don't have a direct line to the North Pole.

I realize Thanksgiving is a couple of weeks off, and you're right, it really is too early to be writing about Christmas. I mean, Madison Avenue is bad enough. Turn on the tube two days before Halloween and from the ads, it appears Thanksgiving is nothing more than a minor bump on the road to December 25. But what was about to happen in front of Williams-Sonoma would be enough to make even the most jaded forget about the date and simply be glad the Holidays are here at last.

I was standing with my back to a long hallway leading to the mall offices, preoccupied by my sweet, diminutive fellow watcher and waiter and her fascination with the window dressings. A toy train bearing the name, The Polar Express, rolled round a track decorated with artificial pine bows, green ribbons on red packages, and a tiny town replete with snow-capped mountain. She couldn't steal her eyes from it and neither could her mother -- there they were, two little girls, hand in hand, riding The Polar Express.

Suddenly, I heard a loud, "Ho! Ho! Ho! M-e-r-r-y Christmas!" and quickly turned to see Santa Claus step from the hallway into the mall. Oh yes, you bet I smiled and waved, I never miss a chance. He smiled and waved back, then greeted other shoppers who stopped at the sound of his voice to wave.

Then, I heard something else, a rapidly indrawn four-year old breath that made me look down. With eyes like saucers, she whispered in awe, "S-a-n-t-a." At first, I wasn't sure how it would all unfold -- did he notice her? Of course, he did, he's Santa, he knows when we are sleeping, he knows when we're awake -- not a child on the planet goes unnoticed by him and that includes this one. His two female elvish helpers continued on to his "workshop," unware he'd halted in front of Williams-Sonoma and knelt down on one knee.

He reached a mitted hand to his face, thoughtfully stroking a beard I'm absolutely certain had to be real, and softly said, "Merry Christmas, Jennie." She looked up at her mother, whose face was a study in amazement, then broke free and ran into his arms.

I didn't hear what was spoken, that's between she and Santa, and maybe nothing was. Maybe her actions said everything. I know they spoke clearly enough that when he released her and tenderly touched her hair, rising to his feet he looked at me with eyes moist with tears. Yes, Virginia, Santa has a heart, you can be sure of it.

Something told me only a fool would let this moment pass, so I followed after him and laid my hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry to intrude, but..."

He interrupted me and said, "You want to know how I knew her name. Well, Beggar -- yes, I know yours, too -- after a few hundred years at this, you start to develop a pretty good memory. Merry Christmas." Then he smiled once more and winked.

I could have sworn I heard sleigh bells as he walked away.

(Creative Commons image by dkjd via Flickr)
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