Every Christmas, multitudes of parents flock to the malls to stand in line waiting to have their children photographed with Santa. There was no difference with my family when it came to Timmy. I had graduated from the Police Academy in June, 1998 when Timmy was just shy of his third birthday. Since Timmy was born friends had told his mother and me to bring Timmy to the Neshaminy Mall because the Santa there was the best. The only problem was that at the time we didn’t have a car, and settled for photographs with either my dad playing Santa for a Police party or someone at a Christmas Bazaar. It didn’t matter; it was the magic of Christmas.
I hated Christmas before Timmy was born. I mean I made the Grinch look like a saint. But the first Christmas, feeling like a character from O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, I tried to buy whatever I could for my son’s first Noel. I bought a few baby toys, including Winnie the Pooh. My father of course bought up just about anything my wife and I picked and considered. Some of the things were too much money; others were on our “not safe” list.
I was still working as EMT and dispatcher at a private ambulance company, and with what I had left after groceries, bills, bus pass, and mortgage, I went to Toys R Us or Kay Bee Toys and bought the marked down toys. Still each year was photographed with the first available Santa.
Finally after I graduated the Police Academy, I bought a used Camry. We drove to the Neshaminy Mall for the guy advertised as the real deal. Timmy yelled with excitement as we passed the billboards on I-95, say “Santa! Santa!” When we arrived, Santa had just left for a lunch break and were handed a reservation request. We filled it out and handed a square red diode laden pager. So what do we do now? We decided to go for Timmy’s favorite food – Pizza! Down the hall from the Santa Chair is Pizza Villa. It’s a nice place to get a slice, a whole pie, or even a buffet meal of Italian food.
We opted to sit in a booth and had a pizza ordered. While we were waiting, Tim stood on the seat of the booth, and with an opened mouth, excitedly pointed at a guy wearing red pants with suspenders, black boots, and a Christmas themed thermal shirt. He had the white beard, blue eyes, and a laugh that could belong to no other than Kris Kringle. Timmy sprang up and off the booth seat and proceeded to interrupt Santa who was attempting to enjoy a hoagie. He got to a few feet of Santa and froze. He inspected the man.
“Hello there.” Santa said.
Timmy just gave a slight wave. Finally he found the courage to speak, “I’m Timmy.”
“Oh you are? Are you on my good list or my bad list?”
“I’m on the good list. I’m a good boy.”
“Yes Monk. You are a very good boy.”
Timmy waved good-bye to Santa with a “See you when you get back from lunch.”
I now saw why this Santa was considered the best. He was Santa in spirit.
Every year since, we would stalk Santa at the Pizza Villa. Tim would continue to sit with Santa until Alaina was old enough to be with Santa alone when he was eleven. That was the last time Tim had his picture taken.
It broke my heart when he said that there is no Santa. “I just liked going to the mall with you and mommy to get it done. I’ll still do it if it makes you feel better.”
Last Christmas season, Tim passed the game of Stalking Santa on to his sisters. I burst with laughter as my girls did the same as their brother had done ten years before.
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