Before it was a movie, it was my best childhood memory.

Henry Ford Museum, located in Dearborn, Michigan, was a yearly trip for our school around Christmas, and it was truly magical to see around the holidays. There were craft tables, exhibits, and a Santa that could convince any child to believe. The only thing I remember from 1989 was that Santa.

My second grade teacher, I couldn't tell you her name, read Polar Express to the class the week before our most adored trip. I had already been doubting Santa, but somewhere deep in my heart I wanted to believe. Once the book came to an end I had already set my mind on what I would ask Santa for that year.

The day of the field trip came, and while I enjoyed the museum, I was anxious to climb onto Santa's lap. I waited in line, and planned out how I would word what I was about to say to the man in the red suit. Minutes faded quickly and it was my turn.

I climbed into his lap, and studied his face. So real, so believable, but I wouldn't be deterred. His deep, smooth voice asked, "What do you want for Christmas, Niccole?" I'm sure my name tag gave me away, but I was still surprised that he knew me.

My mind was momentarily fogged, but I began to speak, "You're the only one I'm telling, but I really want a bell off of your sleigh. I will know Santa is real if I get the bell, because I'm only telling you - not my Mom or Grandma."

He looked at me, smiled for what seemed like forever, said "Merry Christmas, Niccole" and handed me my candy cane. My heart sank. I wondered if I hurt Santa's feelings. It quite honestly dampened the rest of my highly anticipated trip. The next couple of weeks slipped by in a blur that I don't remember.

Christmas Eve came, and my single mother found herself wrapping Christmas presents on our apartment floor by herself. Around 10 p.m. my mom answered a knock at the door. Standing in our apartment hallway was an elderly woman that asked my mom to come out to her vehicle because she had someone that wanted to meet my mom. Obviously my mom was skeptical, so she had our neighbor's wife come and sit with me while I slept, and the neighbor went out to the car with my mom.

As my mom approached the vehicle Santa got out of the passenger seat of the van. He explained what I had told him sitting on his lap, that he contacted the school I went to and asked for my address (only having my name and grade), and that after hearing the story and his wish the school gave him my mother's information. Santa told her that "after looking into my big brown eyes there was no way he could have a Merry Christmas knowing that this could possibly be the last year I believed."

The thoughtful man handed my mom a box that had a calligraphy tag on it that said, "To: Niccole, From: Santa, 1989" My Mom shook the box and it rang out.

The next morning I flew through unwrapping Barbies, My Little Ponies, and my first Nintendo. When my gifts had been unwrapped my mom handed me one last gift - a present wrapped in white. The tag was beautiful. As I unwrapped it I heard the rattle. There was suddenly no restraint. Pieces of paper flew, and the lid came off - the BELL! The worn and large bell laid beautifully in the box. I was a Believer!!!

Whoever that man was, he enabled me to believe in the magic of Christmas during a childhood that I desperately tried to escape. It was 6th grade before I started to doubt again, and when the doubt came this time my mom shared the story of the Santa at our apartment that Christmas Eve. The story meant more to me than the actual bell, and I was grateful that someone thought enough of me in 1989 to give me a Christmas I will share with future generations.

Merry Christmas from someone who still believes in (the idea of) Santa!


bungee said...

Wow, that's amazing! It's nice to hear about random acts of kindness from time to time, but this is the best I've heard. In retrospect, it was such a little thing, but believing in Santa is such a big part of kids' lives. It's inspiring that that man was so keenly aware of this and worked so hard to make you, a complete stranger, so happy. Don't ever forget it!

Aubs said...

What a great story! I am concerned as to if my children will believe in the gift of Christmas. I am always looking for stories to help them understand and believe. Thanks for sharing.

mooce said...

nic! love it. see you tongiht.