For all the world, it appeared to be Santa Claus in civilian clothes, buying groceries like anyone else.
Nolan rushed to tell his mother.
“Go speak to him,” she urged.
Despite his boisterousness around the family, Nolan can be shy with strangers. Instead of walking up to the Bearded One, Nolan lurked behind displays until he was spotted.
“I remember you,” the undercover elf said genially. “You’ve been a good boy this year.”
Nolan, who had just gotten into trouble at home for polishing off an entire tube of cookie dough from the refrigerator, rushed back to Mom: “See, I told you I’ve been good this year!”
Our daughter urged Nolan to tell the man what he wanted for Christmas.
“He knows what I want!” Nolan insisted. “I told him what I want!”
It seems Nolan already had met Santa at a store this year. There’s no telling what he asked for.
For the rest of the excursion through the store, Nolan kept bumping into Santa, who explained that he had come down South to enjoy the climate before heading back to the North Pole and getting really busy.
I later told the store managers how much I appreciated the unofficial visit – even though Santa was wearing khakis and a red shirt and not the official outfit. I suggested they put him on the payroll because he would certainly have the same effect on other kids.
They said they were equally surprised by the visit from the man whose day job lasts only one night.
Nolan’s encounter reminded me of Christmases long, long ago when my son, Tommy, would watch the commercials for the latest toys, turn to me and say, “Papa, I don’t have that.”
He wouldn’t actually ask for toys; he simply reminded me that here was something that couldn’t be found on the floor of his room. It was up to me, or Santa, to add to the collection.
As a toddler, he had screamed his head off when we plopped him onto Santa’s lap. Around age 6, when I offered to take him to visit Santa at the stores, he looked at me as though I had lost my mind.
“You know, Papa, I don’t believe in Santa this year.”
I was shocked.
“How can you even say such a thing?” I asked.
He said a classmate had told him Santa wasn’t real.
“Well, your classmate is wrong,” I said. “There is a Santa Claus. Who are you going to believe – some punky kid or your papa?”
I dragged Tommy to the store so he could see with his own eyes, even if he didn’t always believe his old man anymore. (Actually, it was the mall; Santa didn’t hang around in supermarkets back then.)