This is one of my very favorite Christmas stories, one I witnessed myself. I want to start my Christmas celebration this year with this in mind.
Shortly after we were married, MrG and I went out for lunch in early December. It was a Saturday, early afternoon. As we sat at our table together, we noticed a curious thing. A young girl, maybe three or four years old, toddled by with her mommy on the way to the bathroom. As she neared our table, she looked away from us towards an oldish man and his wife in the booth across the aisle from us.
And she stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes widened as she took it all in. Here sat a nice white haired gentleman, with a beard as white as snow. A bit on the chubby side, he had nice round cheeks and I kid you not, a twinkle in his eye.
Her mom tried to drag her along to their destination, but this kid wasn't moving. Instead, she crept towards him, a bit timid at first. And then, she crawled right up in the booth next to him and begin to speak.
God bless this man - looking exactly like Santa, a few weeks from Christmas, just sitting at Chili's enjoying lemonade with his wife, when an unknown little tot pegged him for the jolly man!
He took a few minutes, spoke gently to the girl, then patted her on her head and scooted her away. Off she went, happy as a clam. She came back by on the way to her table, smiled the kind of smile only an angel can muster, and waved heartily as she passed by. I'm not sure who was happier - the little girl, or the grown ups who were watching the scene unfold!
Every one of us who witnessed this knew that this little girl, beyond a shadow of a doubt, believed that she had just met Santa Claus. You could see it on her face, and feel it radiate in her smile.
As fate would have it, we were leaving the restaurant at the same time as the man and his wife, and I commented on how sweet his exchange with his new friend had been. His face softened, and his eyes kind of glistened, and he told me that this had been happening for years. He said he always took time when the children sought him out, because it was a special memory for the children.
Truth be told, that little girl probably has no recollection at all of her encounter at the Chili's. But I do, and MrG does, and that nice little man and his wife do. And when we think about it, our hearts warm up just a smidgen.
The kindness of a stranger made a little girl very happy that day, and this memory gives me a lump in my throat every time I think about it. That child knew without question that she was in the presence of a great man. Her error was thinking it was Santa Claus, and not just some mere mortal who took time out of his day to share a few sweet moments with a little one, who would all too soon not believe in the magic of Santa.
I believe without fail that what goes around comes around, and I hope to the center of my soul that this nice little man reaps tenfold the joy he's brought to little kids and their grownups.
Merry Christmas, indeed, my friends.