The Gift

There was a time before hand held devices, instant gratification and social networks.

A time when Christmas started after the Big Man himself, me, made his appearance at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and not at the end of September in the Dollar Store.

A time when stop lights would pause for the night and blink yellow or red. When the news programs of the day started at 10 p.m. and were followed by Johnny Carson. When televisions only had four stations and they would sign off shortly after midnight. Well, with the sprawl of Suburbia and the growth of the country during the 1960s the world had become bigger and the toys so much more than just wood and cloth. Well it has been said the world waits for no one, and here was proof.

Choo-choo trains and rag dolls had been taken over by Lionel and Barbie. Mattel, Hasbro Marx, Tonka and many more companies flooded the market and every child wanted at least three of each.
I had  decided to take a break—to streamline my operations. So I scaled back operations and decided to focus on one major gift a year. Regardless of age or gender, just one. Immortal as we are here at Santa, Inc., we have been dealt some laws which even we can not over rule. It was decided that the gift could not be monetary. It could not be a cure for an illness. We have no ability to change that man or ladies mind so they fall in love with you. My long time friend Cupid laughs hard at this one. The  gift that was to be personal and the person who received it had done something extraordinary and deserved to have their wish come true. And here is the caviat emptor—a gift could be forwarded to a loved one.

And, that rarely happened. But think about it, if you were granted a choice for a really great gift without knowing what may be, what would you do? So back to our tale. When you see a Santa in the mall. Department store, big box store, well, sometimes an a rare occasion one of them is one of us.
Surprise! Oh, we know. We have heard it all and well at times are hard pressed where to throw our hard earned talents to.

Europe, Antarctica, Asia, Australia and yes, America. North America this time around.
It was in a mall in the Denver metro area and low and behold this time it was me who was in the chair. Not Melvin, or Cornelius, my personal assistants for generations mind you. Me. Kris Kringle. St. Nick. Santa Claus. CEO if you will.

The Mile High City has always had a special place in my heart. The Queen City of the Plains has been a melting pot of cultures since it came to be. Maybe it is the high altitude or the melding of the Yankee meets Southwest culture, Denver has always been one of my favorites. On this snowy November day, right after Thanksgiving I was in downtown Denver. Right off of the 16th street mall. I had just attended a Breakfast with Santa event and had decided to walk down the mall and mingle with the people.   The smoky grey clouds hung low and the snow was falling steadily. The ground was snow packed and not treacherous, but that in between stage where as you step it is a soft crunch. The air smelled of kettle corn, hot coffee and pastries. The wind would gust on occasion and sting your cheeks, redden your nose. So many smiles and chattering. A man stood on a corner and was reading The Night Before Christmas to a crowd o rosy cheeked children. A young lad with dreadlocks was juggling tambourines and accepting tips. As I walked by I dropped a $20 into his hat. I kept walking toward the west end of the mall. The singing grew fainter. The smells in the air were replaced by diesel and grit. I paused to see a man try and create a better shelter with his cardboard box. A woman wide eyed and lonely walked by pushing a cart. And it was then I saw a tall man and two kids. The boy was a dead ringer for his Daddy and the little girl had the brightest eyes I had ever seen in a child’s face. I paused and noticed that each of them was pulling a red wagon behind them. Within each wagon were sacks of groceries, bottled water and socks. Their Dad was wearing a black pork pie hat. He was a broad fellow with bright eyes and a beaming grin. He was saying something to his kids when he saw me. Our eyes met and I knew this man. As a child I could see him from decades back and I remembered him. He knew who I was. Right there. It is rare that it happens and a select few adults have recognized me. “Uh, kids, I think you need to talk to this man,” is all he said. The little girl ran up to me and just hugged my legs. She was so shy and lovely. I tried to talk to her, but she buried her face into my shins and would not look at me. So I spoke, “Jo, you are so lovely! My dear girl come to Santa and tell me what is on your mind.” Her Dad lifted her up and the young boy walked up to me.  His eyes were so full of wonder. I got down on my knees and brought him in as I always do when I meet kids on the street. “Jackie, say young man, what do you want for Christmas?” I asked. His Dad stepped back and tilted his head back and laughed. The boy looked up at me wide eyed.  “Please, son, just tell ol’ Santa.” And he did. But beyond that he spoke of the wagons. Of hot summers and walking next to the Platte river. Of a hopped up go-kart and helping his Dad rebuild an engine. Of watching at night as his Dad put them to bed, then would work in the shop welding of working on Tiki statues just to earn money to keep their home a home. Of the love he had for his sister and how much his Daddy meant to him. “I have them,” the young boy said, “and that is enough for me.” Again I asked, “Son, what do you want for Christmas?”
And he leaned in away from his family and whispered into my ear. I listened. Carefully. I smiled. “Done young man. I can do that.”

His Dad looked at me smiled that huge grin, shook my hand and they walked off. I looked at the man and said, “Edward, you have done wonderful with your kids. Merry Christmas.” His eyes widened. He laughed heartily and shook his head. We locked eyes and he said to me, “I knew you were real.” I nodded and winked.

Young Jackie was walking with a bit more of a bounce in his step. He looked at me and gave me an okay sign with his hand and a wink. Jo, as lovely as she is turned and smiled.

And there I was. A wish thrown my way and less than 30 days to make it reality.

I paused and leaned back against the building. Over the years, decades, centuries as I have tried to deliver wishes to young folks, occasionally a child knocks me back off of my feet. On this cheery day in downtown Denver little Jackie did just that. The snow picked up just a bit. The wind picked up and my eyes watered cold? Nah, just the beauty of one kids wish made me tear up.

However, a wish was made, and well, I had a job to do. I pulled out my phone and dialed my home base. Yes, I have a phone, its the 21st century. Don’t judge.

At Santa, Inc. we do have a budget, but I’ll be damned how the donations are endless. Our contacts would floor you. A few clicks and the project was ours. In fact, the one that Jackie had known about. We scooped it up for a song and before you can say Christmas Story that ol’ boy was on a flatbed and headed for a new life. I will not say where our work shop is. But I can tell you that FedEx, UPS, and the amazing USPS know us by heart.

One goal. One wish. 24 days.

On the 1st of December the project arrived. Complete, yes, but well, this old boy needs some loving. At Santa, Inc, we launch into a project full on. The old truck was disassembled. Stripped. Painted. Detailed.  And we leaned on our contacts, trust me.  Speed shops, Restoration shops, wrecking yards and old friends—Svigel’s. You know who you are. Little Jackie had one definitive request that we strived to accomplish. Make the ol’ pick up a daily driver. He wanted his Dad to drive the wheels off of it as he had years ago when he set off on a soul searching tour that took his father to the Northwest, to Canada then back down route 101 and along the back roads of the Southwest headed back to Denver. A new Ford F-100 with all of the bells and whistles will bring a 25 MPG, well, a mild flatty in a 64 year old pick was going to do that very well thank you. And in my eyes a ’53 Ford F-100 looks so much better too. The paint on the old pick up was faded in spots, but in over all good condition.  Fenders and body panels straight and rust free. A few dents, but patina is cool. So it was left in a faded light blue. Painted black bumpers and a white painted grille. We polished the stainless made sure the floors were solid and contacted the folks at Mar-K in Oklahoma for a new oak bed and stainless runners. From a secret stash we through an NOS seat cover into that ol’ boy and added rubberized floor covers. A set of twice pipes singing through some smitty mufflers. Black painted rims, poverty caps and wide white wall tires courtesy of Coker tires. It was December 20th when Cecil and I took that old truck for a lap around Santa, Inc.

Driving a vintage vehicle is unlike anything you can imagine. If you have ever done so you know it. You DRIVE it. One feels the road through the steering wheel. You have to work the accelerator. And the sound. The youth today may be enthralled with the thump and pop of those WSR’s, but the sound of a healthy flathead V8 through glasspacks. Well, it is timeless.

Cecil and I glanced at each other and just grinned. Our job was almost done. Time to make a delivery. 12:01 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, December 25th.

Edward had just wrapped up his duties at the little house of wonders on Pierce street. Stockings filled, gifts laid out in the living room. He was pausing to take it all in when he heard a sound in his driveway. A sound all to familiar to him.

Rrrrar-rrrarrrr-rrrrarrr-Vrooom!

A flathead V8 firing up in his driveway. Who was in his driveway this time of morning he wondered? Edward walked to back of his home, opened the door and walked out toward his driveway. His pace slowed. It was starting to snow and the delicate flakes danced lightly in the soft glow of the headlights of the old pick up. The exhaust burbled softly. Snow that had landed on the roof and hood had already melted up and was beaded up and running in rivulats down the old skin of the truck. On the roof was a huge red bow. Edward walked in a daze to the driver’s side door. Hanging from the handle was a tag that flittered about as the wind blew. He reached out and turned it over in his hand and upon it was written in script,

To: Mr. Edward
From: Santa

Edward opened the door and was awash in heat as the heater filled the cab with warmth.
He reached over and turned the key off. The engine cut off and Edward killed the lights. He pulled the keys out of the ignition and noticed the key chain had a key fob with his name engraved upon it.
Edward stepped back and took it in. 1953 Ford F-100. A short box pick up. His eyes filled with tears. He ran a hand along the fender and paused. The night was still. He could hear the dull hum of traffic and the soft tick as the engine and exhaust cooled.

How could this be?

Then he remembered the meeting with the bearded man on the 16th street mall and how his son had whispered to the old man.

He paused outside his son’s bedroom. Jackie was fast asleep and he hated to wake him, but he had to know. He entered and gently touched his son’s shoulder. Jackie stirred and then realizing it was Christmas, his eyes were then wide. “Dad, did Santa come?” he asked. He glanced at his son and nodded. “Did he bring the gift for you?” The father nodded holding back more tears. Jackie hugged his Dad fiercely. “I knew he was real! Let’s go out and look at it!”

“Son, I have to ask. Why didn’t you ask for a gift for yourself? Why did you give up the chance for something for yourself?” Edward asked Jackie looked up at him and then said,”Dad, you have taught me something that I treasure. And it is that giving is the greatest thing a person can do. That’s my favorite gift.”

—Dedicated to my friend Mr. Dale Sawin

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