Amy was looking through classifieds in the paper. She needed inspiration for a last minute Christmas story her editor would print without hesitation. Finally, she came across an ad that peaked her attention. Her coffee cup was slowly replaced on the table as Amy began to read aloud,
“Time-Traveling Santa needs helper. To respond, please contact: Ethel Jones, 3401 Maple Lane.”
Without hesitation, Amy left her office and drove through the light snow to an older, but nice neighborhood. Mentally, she was trying to craft a Christmas story article around the idea of a crazy do-gooder who believed he could time travel. Or was he a “she?”
Soon, she pulled to a stop in front of a quaint old house surrounded by maple trees and flower pots now topped with snow. Amy left her car and followed a winding garden path up to a wreathed wooden door. By now it was afternoon of Christmas Eve day.
Amy knocked at the door and a rosy-cheeked, elderly lady opened the door.
“Hi, my name is Amy Moore from the Post, and I’m responding to your add for a helper. Are you the Santa who time travels?”
“Oh, come in out of the snow, dear. . .”
The old lady seemed delighted with the unexpected company. She made tea and brought cookies, all the while deftly avoiding Amy’s questions while asking politely-nosey questions, like:
“Are you married, dear?
Ethel sat down in her chair and took up her needles and wool yarn. She was knitting a rather fantastic, red, wool hat.
Amy decided she had been played for a sucker and decided to escape as soon as possible.
“Thank you for the tea and cookies, Mrs. Jones. I have to get back to the office now—“ But Ethel merely smiled and finally began her story:
“The first Santa has become a bit of a legend, and we don’t know how much of the story is true. People don’t live forever, you know.”
Amy sank back into her chair as Ethel sent her a keen glance, before she continued.
“He was just a man who prayed for people around the world, especially children. He was a carpenter and made toys and rocking chairs and such like. . . Around Christmas time one year, that first Santa either made, or was given, a time-space machine—“
“A time machine!” Amy interrupted. “You mean Santa’s sleigh is a time machine?”
“Well, yes dear. It does rather look like a sleigh, and it rings whenever it arrives somewhere.”
“What about the reindeer?” Amy asked, much amused, but feeling hopeful about a potential story.
“I’ve often wondered about that,” the old lady admitted. “I think perhaps there may have been reindeer in the old days. Although, Chris thinks the first Santa called the gears of the sleigh “reindeer” as a joke.”
“Chris?” the Amy inquired, not missing the irony of that name.
“Oh, you’ll meet him later when he comes by to get his hat.”
“His hat?” Amy repeated with a laugh, noticing the impressive, red, woolen toboggan that Ethel was very near to finishing.
Ethel nodded, “I’ve been making hats for Santas at Christmas every year since I married mine. . . He’s passed away now, and I do miss him this time of year.”
Amy was torn between the need to appear grave and sympathetic, while at the same time feeling delighted with the colorful tale Ethel was unwinding.
“You married a Santa?” she asked, with studied restraint.
“Did I leave out that part of the story?” the old lady asked with some confusion. She stopped knitting for a moment, and then shook her head and resumed. “No, I remember, I was still telling you about the first Santa.
“You see, the first Santa used his time-space machine to deliver gifts to children all over the world.”
“Did he make them too? In a shop with elves?”
“Well, no. Mostly parents and grandparents give presents to their children, and this has nothing to do with Santa. What I’m talking about is something completely different. There are a few—a very special few—gifts that God sends to certain children when they are in need. Santa is the delivery boy for those gifts. And this is what the time-space machine has been used for since the beginning.”
“So, you’re saying there have been other Santas since the first one?” Amy asked, sitting on the edge of her chair, while scribbling rapidly on her notepad.
Ethel wrinkled her forehead disapprovingly at the notepad, but then nodded amicably, ”Oh, a great many. A very great many. My own husband was the son of a Santa. He kept up the work for 60 years before Chris joined him.”
“Chris again. Is he the new Santa?”
“Yes, yes. Of course. He will be here soon. I should heat some more water so he can have a cup of tea before he goes. Are you dressed warm enough for an evening out, dear? It can get cold in that drafty old sleigh.”
Amy was speechless this time, watching the old lady put on the kettle and then pick up her knitting again.
“Last few purls,” the old lady commented to herself as Amy went over her notes.
Her mind was racing with the charm of the story. It was so lovely, she wished it were true. She could think of nothing in the world she would rather do than spend her life delivering presents from God to children who needed or deserved some special gift. In fact, it was too nice a story for a mercenary local paper. She felt distaste at the prospect of hearing her editor laugh at Ethel.
The old lady tied off her knitting and picked up scissors to cut the thread. At that moment both women heard the sound of sleigh bells.
“He’s here!” The old lady cried joyously. “I finished just in time.”
The door opened and a young man with a dark blond beard came through the door. He wore a red down jacket and black boots over black snow pants. With the enthusiastic familiarity of a grandchild, he shook off the snow just inside the door while his booming laugh filled the room.
“Merry Christmas, Ethel! How’s that hat coming?” He bent down to kiss the old lady’s cheek while she pulled the wool hat over his tousled head.
“It fits. Do you like it?”
“Warm as can be! Thanks, Ethel. Have you got a cup of tea for me before I go?”
For the first time Chris seemed to notice the extra person in the room. He turned to look at Amy with curiosity and a bit of caution.
“Now, Chris,” the old lady began in a pleased voice, “this is Amy, and she’s come to be your helper. We’ve had a very nice afternoon together waiting for you. Here is your tea.”
Chris was still looking at the girl, both hopeful and a bit dubious. In his life so far, he had never met anyone who actually believed he was Santa. He especially never expected anyone to believe enough to join him in the work.
Besides, the girl was cute.
Amy rose slowly to her feet, in awe of the whole situation. A growing desire to keep following this story in real life grew inside of her, but she was at a loss for words.
Chris gulped down his tea and looked at the girl again. The old lady looked at her as well.
“Amy?” Ethel asked.
“Are you coming with me?” Chris spoke with careful indifference as he turned toward the door. But his glance was not indifferent—his glance was hopeful.
Amy’s mouth opened and closed with the effort to say something. . . anything.
Ethel and Chris waited. Then, almost imperceptibly, Ethel winked.
Amy found her voice. “I’m coming with you,” she said.