(This was my 'Catch a Rave' column for Dec. 15, 1996.)
The man was trapped: a miserable creature facing one of the most difficult actions of his miserable existence.
The boy, age 8, was unwavering. He had his suspicions, of course. He was old enough to have accumulated his share of cynicsm, but somewhere deep in his little heart a glimmer of hope held forth that he wouldn't get the answer he expected.
The hope was not to be:
"It's true," the old man said at last. "He's not real."
The glimmer died, but somehow the boy understood something even more important: All those years that Santa had brought the best-ever presents and his folks had disappointed him by giving him clothes -- it had been them all along who filled both his needs and his holiday fantasies. He could accept that.
That's not the way it happened, though that's the way it should have been. Instead, it happened because someone in the neighborhood broke into the home of the boy's grandmother and stole the Christmas toys his parents had hidden in Grandma's utility room.
The theft was not discovered until late on Christmas Eve, and 20-some years ago in rural northwest Florida, there was no 24-hour discount store where the distraught parents could rush to replace puloined presents.
Instead, the parents got up very early on Christmas morning and made breakfast and waited for the kids to awaken. And when the children rushed down the hallway to see the mostly empty living room where they had expected to find scatterings of Christmas delights, the parents picked them up and held them and told them what had happened and promised to take them shopping to pick out their very own presents.
The kids didn't cry -- not even the boy's 5-year-old little sister. Somehow, knowing that their parents had been the source of their past Christmas joys helped them to see beyond the morning's disappointments.
That -- and the possibilities raised by the thought of shopping with parents riddled by guilt.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la, lala!