Tom Carlins Christmas Miracle
My Christmas Miracle happened many years ago in Richmond, Virginia, where I had played Santa Claus for about eight years. In fact, the particular year of my miracle I was awarded first prize as one of the ten best Santa Clauses in the United States.
In the department store where I sat on Santas throne, the children filed up and were automatically photographed. As they left, their names and addresses were taken, whether they bought the picture or not.
One particular snowy afternoon about a week before Christmas business was light due to a near-blizzard outside. Suddenly a young, dirty-faced boy appeared in front of me, wearing shamefully ragged clothes and sneakers with the toes out. In a low, urgent voice he said: Listen, Santy Claus, Im bringin my little sister up to see you, and I dont want you to promise her anything, because shes not gonna get it. Theres no money at our house.
He left and in a few minutes came back with his little sister. Except for her dirty face and deplorable clothes, she would have looked like a beautiful blond angel. I picked her up and set her on my lap. The photographer snapped the picture. In my kindest tone I asked, And what would you like?
Well, she spieled off a list which included almost everything. You know, when you dont have anything, you want everything. Coincidentally one of the store supervisors had come up behind Santas throne and stood there listening.
As the little girl slipped from my lap, the attendant wrote down her name and address as usual. She took her brothers hand, and they hurried out of the store into the blowing snow.
The eavesdropping supervisor was practically in tears because of their pathetic condition. Immediately he spread the word all through the department store. Everyone caught the spirit, and by Christmas Eve every item on that little girls wishlist was collected all donations of the store employees.
I couldnt believe my eyes as I loaded my pack. Of course, Santa had a Snow Princess, who wore an exquisite ball gown, a thin stole, and pink ballet shoes. She wanted to accompany me on this very special delivery of toys and clothes. The store closed at 5:30. Outside it was snowing and was getting dark. We hailed a taxicab. I gave the black driver the address which we had obtained from the record of photos taken.
When we arrived at the address, we discovered that we were in the poorest section of Richmond worse than a ghetto, really the dregs of poverty. We struggled out of the taxi with our load. Even the storm couldnt eliminate the stench of rotting garbage and stale boiled cabbage.
Our black taxi driver said: Mista, yall might be Santy Claus, but I wouldnt dare stay in dis section o town, dis time o night fo nobody. Im not waitin even fo Santy Claus. No suh!
Well, I replied, of course, I want to visit with this little girl. I was feeling uneasy myself. I imagine we can find a phone somewhere.
By this time it was totally dark and was snowing quite heavily. We walked up on the step of the rickety shanty and pounded on the door. Nothing happened. We pounded again and again. That indescribable odor of poverty was overpowering here. The house was so old it was sort of tilted to one side. A couple of windows were broken. Again we pounded.
Finally the door opened. Inside, silhouetted against the dim light, was a wretched little woman with wild hair. She snarled, Whatta you want?
When Santa Claus and the Snow Princess arrive on a front porch on Christmas Eve, laden with brightly colored parcels, its an occasion, but she was unimpressed. (I cant remember our little girls name, so Ill call her Mary Lou Hill for expediency.) I asked, Is this where the Hills live?
Naw! I threw em out, she said. They didnt pay their rent. She griped on, then slammed the door in our faces.
By now the snow had developed into a good blizzard, and it was dark. What to do now? Ann, the poor Snow Princess, had soaking feet and was slowly freezing to death because she was till wearing only her light stole. I was dressed in my Santa suit and had no wrap to give her. After all, we hadnt really planned to be out in the weather.
There wasnt a street light anywhere in that part of town. I peered anxiously down the dark street. In the distance I could see a light. So we started trudging toward it, bending our bodies against the blowing snow. Suddenly a woman appeared out of the gloom. Instantly I asked her if she knew where the Hills lived.
Why should I know? she snapped back, and was swallowed up in the darkness. We kept moving toward the light. Suddenly I felt a tug on my arm. It was the same woman. She said: I want to apologize. I do know the family. In fact, my name is Hill too, although theyre not related to my husband. The father drinks and well, theyre not the happiest family in the world.
We stood chatting for a moment in the cold. She said: I live right here. Why dont you come in and get warm, and Ill call my husband. Perhaps hell have some information where theyve moved to.
We stepped inside the small house. Surprisingly, it was spotlessly clean. She called her husband. While we waited, grateful for the warmth, she made us a cup of hot chocolate. Finally her husband arrived, but he didnt know of the whereabouts of Mary Lous family.
Whats the light down the street? I asked.
Its a café-bar, he replied. Somebody down there might have some information. You know, bartenders know everything.
This couple joined us out in the snow and went down to the bar with us. The small place was quite full probably eight or ten people. When the four of us entered, me in my Santa Claus suit and my pack filled with packages, Ann in her soaked Snow Princess dress (she had now turned blue), and the Hills, we created quite a stir. We inquired about the evicted Hill family.
The bartender said: Oh yes, I know of the family all right. Yes, I knew they were evicted, but I havent got the slightest idea where they moved to.
I was puzzled and sick to know where to turn next.
A wizened old man made his way to my side and said: I heard what you wuz talkin about. Last week I saw that man drivin a truck. Now lemme see. What wuz the name on that truck? I dont remember too good any more. He racked his brain for long moments, sort of mumbling to himself. His eyes suddenly lighted. Got it! Harts! Thats the name on the side of that truck. Harts! (That is also a fictitious name.)
Harts happened to be way on the other side of Richmond, down by the river in the warehouse district. It was getting late, and I was feeling desperate.
Come on. Well close the bar and help you find it, the bartender offered. Everyone pushed outside to their vehicles. There was a rickety old Ford, a pickup truck, and a big car an ancient Chrysler, I believe. Everyone piled into their cars, and we started off across town to the Hart Company.
The snow was piling up in the streets. If it kept up this way, I might be stranded. Now whoever heard of Santa being stranded in the snow? At last we reached Harts. We pounded on the gate of the high chain-link fence which surrounded the property. The night watchman appeared with his flashlight.
I explained our plight. He replied: Theres not much I can do for you. We hire quite a few part-time people. Theyll work for a week maybe two. Im sure their records arent kept. But lets go into the office and see what we can find.
Everyone piled out and crowded into the office where it was warmer than waiting in cold cars.
Heres the personnel file, the night watchman said. He searched for a Hill card, but to no avail. Let me call the man who owns this company. Hes a fine gentleman and lives in Petersburg. I dont think hed mind my disturbing him on Christmas Eve to help Santa Claus. He grinned.
Petersburg is a good twenty or twenty-five miles from Richmond, but the owner said hed be right up. We waited about forty-five minutes. The roads were slick; traveling was hazardous. My time was running out. At last a sleek gray Cadillac drove up and the owner hurried into the crowded office. I explained our urgent situation.
Lets go through the file, he suggested. After a thorough search, he shook his head. Nothing here on any Hill.
As he closed the drawer, it stuck. He pulled it back and found that a sheet of paper had kept it from closing. Believe it or not, that paper was the personnel file of Mary Lou Hills father, a file which should have been discarded, but somehow it had slipped under another card. The new address was on the paper.
By this time the owner had been caught up in our project and had telephoned his brother. He arrived with his wife and three children. Our entourage had increased. We all crowded into the waiting cars, five of them: the rickety old Ford, the pickup truck, the ancient Chrysler, the gray Cadillac, and a brand new Plymouth which belonged to the executives brother. It was a strange caravan for Santa. The blizzard hadnt abated. Precariously we wove our way to the address on the personnel file.
Above the storm and the sound of the motor, chimes rang out occasionally. Richmond is known as the city of bells, and the sonorous sound calmed my agitation. Would we make it on time?
At last we arrived at he address. The home was one of those horrible little grungy dwellings, leaning sideways. Instead of window glass, they simply had put oiled paper in the opening to keep out the cold.
The Snow Princess was in a state of utter collapse. She hung onto my arm as we plodded through the deep snow up the path and onto the sagging porch. Everyone else piled out of the cars and huddled in a group. Their voices rose in unison in a spontaneous carol. At the precise moment Santa knocked on the door, it was Christmas morning 12:00 midnight. The tongue of every bell in Richmond was released in one glorious melodic clangor.
The hair on my neck stiffened and the Snow Princess shuddered, not from cold, but from the thrill of that moment. We waited, our misty eyes glued to the door. At last, it opened wide, revealing a beaming Mary Lou. Her smiling face didnt register surprise only confident expectation. She simply said, Hi, Santa Claus, I knew youd come.
Unless that now-grown girl, whose name I dont know, should happen to read this story, shell never know the series of miracles that brought the Snow Princess and Santa Claus with a bulging pack to her door many years ago.
Tom Carlin is a popular radio host in Salt Lake City, Utah, and operates Theatre 138. Every year at Christmastime he relates this story on the radio.
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