Ronald shuffled his bare feet through wads of Christmas wrapping paper scattered across the living room floor; star-shaped bows rolled before him like shiny miniature tumbleweeds.
He casually made his way to the other side of the room and then scampered down the narrow hallway into his father’s den. Great-Uncle Al quietly sat alone there, puffing his pipe and staring out the French windows at a couple of hungry squirrels nibbling corn for breakfast.
The morning had begun at six o’clock with homemade pecan sticky buns (baked the night before, of course). Overflowing stockings were unloaded, and then Uncle Al acted as Santa Claus while distributing gifts from under the tree, one-by-one-by-one, with lots of “ho-ho-hos.” Plenty of squeals and hugs accompanied demonstrative paper ripping.
Now all the excitement was winding down; the old click-clicking grandfather clock in the hallway read eight-twenty a.m., and Uncle Al was taking a much-needed break.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure. C’mere and sit on my lap. What’s on your mind?” He puffed a ring of smoke above his head and laid the curvy-stemmed, black pipe in a bronze holder at his side.
“Well …” Ronald could hardly bring himself to begin. “Suzanne told me a secret just now: she said Santa Claus isn’t real. Is that true?” Ronald’s deep brown eyes flashed. He knew he could trust Uncle Al.
The old man thoughtfully rubbed his full white beard with his right thumb and forefinger while holding Ronald steady with his other hand. “That’s a big question, my boy. Let me think about how to answer.”
The two sat in relative silence, staring at barren trees while rock-rocking gently in the creaky rocking chair. Feminine laugher filtered from the kitchen where a huge twenty-two-pound turkey received spoonfuls of cornbread dressing and awaited trussing.
Snow fell softly like tiny pinfeathers, or perhaps paper confetti dispersed with perfect timing through some giant sifter. Finally Uncle Al spoke.
“You see, Santa is real, just a different kind of real. He’s not exactly flesh and blood, but rather …” He searched for the right words. “…he’s an attitude that lives in our hearts. He’s the jolly, generous kind of giver Jesus wants each of us to be. He gives to all, rich or poor, young or old – right?”
Ronald kicked his leg up and down, up and down, bouncing it off Uncle Al’s, while shifting his gaze to a big knot in the wooden plank floor. “What does that mean though, Uncle Al? I don’t get it.”
Uncle Al cleared his throat. “That means, Ronald, that Santa is alive in your own heart as long as you want him to be. I’m eighty years old and … well … Santa … he’s still there.”
“He is, Uncle Al?”
“He is. Now repeat after me.”
Uncle Al slapped his right hand over his heart, and Ronald mimicked him.
“I Ronald …”
“I Ronald …”
“Do hereby declare …”
“Do hereby declare …”
“Santa to be real … in an unreal sort of way …”
“WHAT? Oh Uncle Al, you’re too funny!” Ronald giggled.
“C’mon son, let’s go play with one of your new Christmas gifts. Enough said?”
“Enough said, Uncle Al.”
“That big bird won’t be ready to eat until after two o’clock I’m told, so we have lot’s of time to kill between now and then.”
“Okay! I’ll get my new game – you stay right here!”
Ronald slipped down from Uncle Al’s lap, but stopped when his uncle grabbed his arm. “So are you alright with this new definition of Santa, Ronald?” Wizened eyes, peeking from beneath heavy, wrinkled lids, probed for confirmation.
A cute sideways grin spread across Ronald’s face. “Oh Uncle Al, you’re just being tricky. It’s all just a cover-up! I always knew YOU were really Santa Claus; I knew it all along!”
With that the pajama-clad figure zipped off, leaving a chuckling old man in his wake. “Well, I never … he just heard what he wanted to hear, I guess.”
Ronald reappeared, awkwardly carrying a big oblong box with a red Santa hat trimmed in white lying on top. “My dad wore this hat at a party last week … but I wanted to see how YOU look.” He screwed up his face in an attempted wink and whispered, “I mean, c’mon Uncle Al, put on the hat, okay? Just for today? Just for me?”
Suzanne appeared in the doorway. “Yeah, Santa … after all, it’s Christmas day!”
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