Monday, 22 December 2014

Will the real Santa Claus stand up?

This story is in my second book of short stories.

Fairbanks, Alaska has a population of 35,000 and every Christmas season, Santa Clauses are on the streets and in the large department stores. The Saturday before Christmas, Fairbanks has a Santa Claus parade for both the kids and their parents and anyone else who enjoys such grand spectacles.

A couple of years ago, the mayor of the city called a meeting with five of his assistants.

“Gentlemen.” he began. “I have asked you to meet with me this morning to tell you of a plan I have for this Christmas Season.  Nothing like this has been done in Fairbanks before and I suspect that it will be a first anywhere.”

He paused and then continued. “I want to have our city conduct a contest to see which Santa Claus that is on our streets and in our department stores best resembles what you believe is the closest likeness as to what a real Santa Claus would really be like.”

One of the men asked, “How will we know what a real Santa Claus would be like if there really isn’t a real Santa Claus?”

The mayor paused for a moment and then said, “Well, for one thing, his beard wouldn’t be a fake beard, he wouldn’t have a high squeaky voice, he wouldn’t have alcohol on his breath, he wouldn’t have a cigarette in his mouth and he wouldn’t have a scowl on his face,  He would have a pleasing disposition.”

Another man asked, “How will be know if his beard is real or not without pulling on it?”

“A man with a real beard won’t object whereas a man with a fake beard will fear that if you pull on it, it will slip from his face so he will tell you not to pull on it. When that happens, you can eliminate him from the contest." 

The mayor then said, “There are five boroughs in Fairbanks so I have assigned each of you to a borough. When you have finished your examinations of the Santas in your boroughs, bring your reports back to me and when you all have finished, I will have a meeting with three other men and they will choose whom they believe is the best choice.”

One of the men asked, “What is the prize for the winner?”

“The mayor replied, “We will choose him to be our Santa Claus during the Santa Claus parade and when the parade is over, I will go to his home with a cheque for five thousand dollars made payable to him and give it to him personally.”

As the five men turned to leave the mayor’s office, he said to them, “There are five seven-year-old boys outside my office and each has a name tag with your name on it. The boys will accompany you in your quest. Use them in the best way you can to help you decided which of the Santas you see is your choice. Now remember, it gets dark at around two-thirty every afternoon during our winter months so the boys have to be home by eight so you can stop your searches at seven. In each of their backpacks are sandwiches but when you take your supper break, buy them soup, a desert and a drink.”

The men left the Mayor’s office and within a half hour, they were in their respective boroughs, each with a seven-year-old boy in hand.                

One of the city officials saw a Santa emerging from a store and he told the boy with him to speak to the Santa.                                          

“Santa,” began the boy, “Do you remember me?

The Santa looked down at the boy and said, “Have we met before?”

The official then said to the Santa, “I am sorry. My son is confused. He thought he recognized you from somewhere.”

The boy asked the official, “What makes you think that he isn’t really the same as a real Santa?

The official smiled and said, “If he was really trying to pretend he is the real Santa, he would have told you that you might have seen him coming down the chimney in your house last year.”

“But we don’t have a chimney.”

“Then he would have given you another explanation but he wouldn’t have hurt your feelings by denying having seen you before. Because of the reply he gave you, he isn’t the one we are looking for to be the Santa in the Santa Claus parade this year.”

Another official saw a Santa in front of a store in his borough and he told his young accomplice to listen to the Santa talking to a smiling black man. 

The black man asked Santa, “Why isn’t Santa a black man?”

The Santa replied with a big smile, “I was born a white person but I have seen many black persons dressing up as Santa and I see no reason why they cannot be a Santa Claus or anyone else playing the role of Santa Claus whose skin is of a different texture than yours or mine.” 

The official said to his young accomplice, “I am satisfied that this particular Santa is as close as the real Santa that we will find in this borough but we will look some more nevertheless.  

The boy asked, “Don’t you want me to see if his beard is for real?”

The official asked the boy, “What do you believe is more important in a man; the way he treats other people or the manner of his beard?”

The way he treats other people.” replied the boy.

The official asked, “Is he a good man?”

The boy replied, “Yes, of course.”

“That’s why I have so far chosen him as the Santa Claus I believe his feelings for others represents the real Santa Claus everyone expects.”

Another official in the district he had been assigned to spotted a Santa in front of a store. He then asked his young accomplice to ask the Santa why part of his beard is brown instead of white.

When the question was asked, the Santa growled and said angrily, “If you want me to tell you, put some money in the Salvation Army pot.”   

The official went to the boy and said, “Come with me, my boy. He doesn’t qualify at all.” The boy smiled and replied, “I really don’t believe that a real Santa Claus would ask me for money.”

The Santa yelled at the two of them when they turned their backs on him, “What do you mean when you said that I wouldn’t qualify?”        

The boy stopped and faced the Santa and said, “You don’t qualify as a decent man, that’s why.” Then he turned and again the two of them walked away from the Santa whose face showed confusion at what he had just heard.

A fourth official was searching for Santa in department stores in his area. He and his young accomplice followed one into a department store after the Santa parked his car on the street.                                            

Ten minutes later, the Santa was sitting in the edge of a platform with a six-year-old girl on his left lap. The girl asked as she began pulling on his beard,

“Is your beard a real beard?”

The Santa growled at her as part of his beard was pulled away, “Stop pulling on my beard, you little brat!”

As the fourth official and his young accomplice walked away, the boy said to the official. “Now there is a man I wouldn’t want coming down my chimney on Christmas Eve.”

The official replied with a chuckle, “Or any other chimney either.”                  

They both laughed as they headed towards the official’s car.                  

The fifth official had better luck when he was watching the Santa in a department store in his downtown borough. The Santa was friendly to all the children who he spoke to.         

The Santa asked a four-year-old girl to whisper in her ear what she wanted for Christmas. He cupped his left hand to his ear and she leaned forward on his right lap. “I want a new doll for Christmas.”

“But Maria, didn’t I bring you a very nice doll for Christmas last year?”

“Yes, Santa but I lost it when our house was on fire.”

“Oh, my dear, I am so sorry to hear that.” He paused and then said, “You tell your mommy that I am going to bring you a brand new doll this Christmas.”

The girl looked up at his face and said, “With a pink dress.”

He replied with a big smile, “Of course, with a pink dress.”

The official had borrowed his father’s hearing aid so that when he turned up the volume control, he could hear whispering in the distance.

The Santa spoke with a great many of the children but there was one conversation that the Santa had with one of the young boys that really interested the official.

Santa asked the three-year-old boy what he wanted for Christmas. The boy replied, “I want a small dump truck.”

Santa looked at him with a saddened face and after placing his cap on the boy’s head, he asked, “Didn’t you get one last Christmas? I know that I promised you that you could have one when you sat on my knee last year.”

The boy exclaimed with surprise, “Santa. You even remember what you promised me last year?”

“My boy,” he replied, “I remember what I have promised every boy and girl that has ever sat on my lap. As to my promise to you last year, did you tell your mother last year that I would bring you a small dump truck?”

“No, I didn’t Santa.”

“Well, my boy,” continued the Santa. “If you promise me that you will tell your mother that I am going to bring you a small dump truck, I will bring you a small dump truck this Christmas Eve.”    

The boy replied enthusiastically, “I promise, Santa Claus.”

As he headed towards his mother, the official heard the boy say excitedly, “Santa said he is going to bring me a small dump truck.”

“Well, son,” his mother said, “If he promised you a small dump truck, then there will be a small dump truck in your stocking this Christmas.”

The official was flabbergasted. How did that Santa know what the boy wanted? Whatever the answer was, he was convinced that this was the Santa who best resembled what everyone believed was the real Santa Claus.         

He learned that the next day, being a Sunday, this particular Santa was going to be at the county orphanage so he made arrangements to be there at the same time.                                                                                                          

The children were excited when the Santa walked into the room where the children had gathered. He seemed to know each of them by their names when he spoke to them.                                                                             

The official later learned that this man had refused to accept any form of compensation for visiting the orphans. He decided that this Santa was to be his choice for the man to be the Santa Claus for the parade.             

The mayor chose three other city officials to read the reports of the five officials who searched for the right man to be the Santa Claus for the parade. They chose the one who went to the orphanage.    

The mayor went to the department store where the Santa chosen to be the Santa in the parade worked as the store’s Santa. The owner was pleased at their decision and said that he will pay his wage to be the parade’s Santa Claus.

The mayor exclaimed with a smile on his face when he said, “The city will award him for his kindness in the manner in which he has related with all the children he saw this year with a cheque issued by the city for five thousand dollars.”

The man that was chosen was pleased at the honour and when the parade began in the late afternoon when it was dark outside, everyone was full of high spirits. The sidewalks were packed with thousands of people waiting for the Santa Clause parade to pass by them.

Naturally, the children were only waiting to see Santa Claus. And see him they did. The children screamed in joy when he was approaching them and especially when he waved at them. 

The next day, the mayor contacted the owner of the department store that hired the Santa who won the contest said that he wanted the address of their employee.

“He only worked two weeks this year and that was only for this particular Christmas.” said the owner. “He told me that he goes from city to city playing the role of Santa Claus in department stores. He says this is the only way he gets an understanding of what children want for Christmas.”

The mayor asked, “What does he do the rest of the year?”

The owner replied, “Judging from his age, I figure he must be retired.”

Well,” continued the mayor, “I have a five thousand dollar cheque for him. Can you give me his address?”

The owner of the store replied, “There is no street number I can give you because he told me that he lives many miles out of the city.”

“Did he say exactly where?”

“Yes, he did. You go up Highway Six until you get to half a mile before Nome Creek Road. Then go on Nome Creek Road for twenty miles and then you will reach the location where his house is. He says that it is the only one in the area. You better wear heavy snow boots because you then have to walk a mile to his house, or so he told me.”

“That’s a long way to go.”

“Well,” said the owner of the store. “If you want to give him the cheque, you better give it to him tonight because he said he is leaving tonight to go further north.”

The mayor and the official that found the winning Santa headed out of town for the long drive. After the sun set, it became cloudy and the sky darkened more.

As it got darker, the beauty of the Aurora Borealis appeared in the sky with all its beauty.

When they turned off Highway Six and headed up Nome Creek Road, the moon was out so it wasn’t necessary for the car’s headlights to be on.  

An hour later when they were at the edge of some trees, they spotted a small cabin they were looking for. They trudged through the snow towards it. 

Once they were inside, they saw the man they had come to see. He was fully dressed as a Santa Claus should be and was leaning back comfortably in a large sofa chair with a great grin on his face.

“Welcome to my humble home, gentlemen. What brings you so far from town?”

The mayor after taking off his heavy overcoat said, “The city has authorized me to give you a cheque for five thousand dollars for playing the role of Santa Claus in our parade.”

The man frowned, “It is a big reward for six hours work but it is too much since all I did was wave my hand and speak into a microphone wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. I don’t think I should receive compensation for simply doing that. Besides, it was great fun for me.”

The mayor was confused. He and the official beside him had driven a very long way and now the purpose of their trip was frustrated by the man’s refusal to accept the cheque.

“Sir,” began the mayor, “We have come a long way to give you this cheque and we are extremely disappointed that you won’t accept it.”
The old man replied, “Your trip was not for naught, my boy. Give it to me and I will endorse it and then hand it back to you with a request that you donate it in the city’s name to the orphanage.”

His two guests stared at each other in bewilderment and then the mayor said, “It is truly a great gift from a very great man.”

The Santa smiled and then said after endorsing the cheque and handing it back to the mayor, “I see that you have brought George with you.”

George asked in bewilderment, “How did you know my name?”

The Santa smiled and replied, “When you were a little six-year-old boy, your father took you to a department store in Seattle and you sat on my knee and asked me to bring you a caboose for your train set.”

George was speechless. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t utter a word.

The mayor looked at George and said, “I can see why you chose this man as the one that best resembles what Santa Claus really is like.”

The Santa then said, “Well, gentlemen. It is time for me to leave you. I have to head up north as I have to get ready for my trip tomorrow night.”

The mayor and George shook the Santa’s hand and left the small one-room hut and climbed down the stairs and began their long trek to their car.

The moon was out and George turned his head and stared at the moon. He saw what looked like Santa Claus in his sleigh that was being pulled by reindeer. He turned to the mayor and said, “Look at the moon!”

The mayor turned to look at moon and said, “What am I looking for?”

George looked back at the moon and saw nothing but the moon. Then he said, “Mayor. I swear. I just saw Santa Claus in his sleigh being pulled by his reindeer.”

“George,” laughed the mayor. “You really have to stop letting your imagination run wild.”

George turned to face the mayor. “I swear, Sir. I really did see him passing by the moon.”                                                                                           

The sun was up when the mayor was pulling up to George’s home. He asked George, “What is Santa going to give your son for Christmas?”

“I bought him a train set.”

“Well, George,” said the mayor in reply, “I am going to give you a five hundred dollar bonus for picking the right man that best resembles the real Santa Claus.

George smiled and then said to the mayor, “You know, Mayor Johnston, there really is a Santa Claus.”

“Why do you say that?” George replied, Santa Clause is everyone who believes that giving a present to another person in this time of the year is what truly represents the real spirit of Christmas." 

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