Read an Excerpt
By Nancy Bechtolt
Expeditiously finishing my shopping first, I found an empty chair bordering the main walkway through the mall and settled down for an innocent orgy of people watching. One familiar motto caught my eye on a passing sweatshirt: Practice senseless beauty and random acts of kindness. I wondered if the wearer or in fact anyone in the mall that day had time for such luxuries. Sounded unlikely.
My attention soon drifted across the procession of shoppers straight into the living room of a Nordic cottage where Santa Claus and an -itinerant -lapful of radiant believers sat enthroned in an ample maple rocking chair. Behind him a painted fire roared silently in its huge fireplace. Beside him stood a real Christmas tree trimmed with ropes of fake cranberries and popcorn and genuine candy canes.
I was close enough to notice a sheen of perspiration form along the line of Santa's white beard and to hear all of his Christmas questions and most of their answers. A long queue of eager lap replacements and resigned parents wound down the mallway. The line was at least an hour long. That was going to challenge a few Christmas spirits.
Two adjacent families about halfway through the line caught my eye. The first was a mother and a group of little boys about two, four, and five years old. The smallest was corralled in a stroller. That was the good news. The other two were free agents, poking, scuffling, and pushing in the red-blooded way little boys have that amuses onlookers and drives mothers to consider substance abuse.
The children were neatly but modestly dressed in matching red sweatshirts that seemed to have suffered a few indignities from prior owners. But their faces were shiny, their eyes as blue as they were mischievous, and their hair fine, blond, and unruly. Directly behind them stood another familymother, father, and little girls about five and seven. The girls wore blue velvet dresses, trimmed in lace at the hem and featuring a line of white organdy rosebud buttons. Their long white stockings and black patent Mary Janes had never seen Christmas before. Their long black hair, caught in flowing ponytails, reached almost to their waists. When they squirmed, their parents took turns walking with them to relieve the tedium of the wait.
The line inched forward until the little boys were next. But something was wrong. The boys didn't dash for Santa's lap. Instead, the mother and Santa's linebacker, who guarded access to Santa and a cash register with equal fervor, were in animated conversation.
The mother couldn't believe she had to pay for a set of pictures just so her children could talk to Santa. Wasn't Santa for all children at Christmas? Wasn't every child equal in his sighteven those who didn't have $11.94 for the smallest set of photos? Couldn't they just sit in his lap for a minute, even if she promised not to take a picture with the camera she had brought along?
No, no, no, the linebacker snarled. This was a photo shop in the express business of selling photos. They were not about to overwork Santa for freeloaders. It was too bad she had waited an hour, but the linebacker could take no responsibility for that.
As their voices rose, I realized I was not the only eavesdropper. The father of the blue velvet daughters returned from one of his mini-strolls and, realizing the nature of the controversy, reached into his pocket. He deposited twelve dollars on the cash register.
'This is from one of Santa's plainclothesmen,' he grinned. 'Now let's get those boys on Santa's lap where they belong.'
The mother relaxed. The little boys leaped. Across the aisle, I smiled as tears of pride collected in my eyes.
Santa's plainclothesman was my son.
©2012. Jeanne Bice. All rights reserved. Reprinted from For The Love of Christmas. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442