… on a true story, at Christmastime



Grab a cup of coffee, or cocoa.  Heck, I don’t know what time it is where you are, maybe you want to settle in with a glass of wine.

I’ve got a story for you.

It was never one I planned to tell.  One only a few people know. Literally, just a few people in the entire world know it. But one of those people reminded me of it recently, said he thinks about it now and again, and it makes him smile and wondered if I’d ever written about it.

It’s nothing bad, really.  Actually, it’s a lot of good. Which is funny, because you’d think something good would be so much easier to talk about than something bad.  But I’ve held this story close for a long time.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I know it has something to do with a belief that some of the coolest things we are fortunate to do, some of the good that we all do, is for our own consumption.

Our own wonder.

We warm our hearts on the embers of these memories when someone laments the drudgery of the human condition, or generalizes the evil or wickedness in the world.

I am a big believer in the idea that, when we help one of us, we lift all of us.

Even if it’s just a little bit, in small ways.

So sit.

Let me tell you a story of something good.

Which kind of involves breaking and entering.

Okay here we go.

When Mackenzie was 8 years old and we still called her Mac, Mac-a-doodle, and Mac-a-roni, (and she didn’t complain), she was a gymnast.

A serious little gymnast who spent between fifteen and twenty hours a week in the gym, swinging and springing and tumbling with her fellow pigtailed pixie-sized monkeys.

She was strong and skilled, magnificently so, and gymnastics gave my once painfully shy little girl confidence. And it gave me…. well, it gave me a lot of time in my car, though not necessarily the gym.

What I found as Mac grew from the little teeny kid at Tumble Tots, to a competitive gymnast, was that the parents – mostly if not all Moms – who waited in the gymnastics waiting room talked pretty much exclusively about their own kids.

Oh, I don’t mean as in,

Mom One: “Hey how is little Josie doing?”

Mom Two: “Oh, she’s fine. Had a cold last week but we did a lot of hand washing and we are all fine.”

I mean…

Mom One: “How’s little Josie doing?”

Mom Two: “Oh, she’s fine. Had a cold last week but we shot her full of steroids and berated the coach for not promoting her to the next level, because you know she can do that. I mean, she got her giant last week and can totally kip with straight arms. I don’t know what he is seeing but clearly he hates her.  I mean that has to be it because he promoted little Karen last week and that kid doesn’t even have a reasonable ponytail, I don’t know what her mother is thinking!”



So I did go in periodically, if I got there for pick up and there weren’t too many people there (or more likely, if there were no people there), and certainly smiled and said hi to many of the Moms through the years.  But mostly I would bring a book and just read. I was never into noshing about Mac’s gymnastics career, and really didn’t feel qualified to criticize somebody else’s perfect angel’s parallel bar routine.

But, about week before Christmas that year, I happened to be in the area of the gym very early. It didn’t make sense to go all the way home and back, and I had no errands to run nearby.  So I drove to the gym, grabbed my book, and headed into the empty waiting room.  I dragged one of the chairs from the ever-present rows lined up in front of the huge window, now decked in red and green garland, that allowed us to ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ at our future olympians.  I set up next to a folding table in the back of the room and settled in.

After about a half hour, women began trickling in.

I smiled at anyone who met my eyes, and returned to my book.

Soon the room had about twenty people in it, all in chairs placed in rows in front of me. I was happily reading, and then a conversation permeated my consciousness.  It was quiet, almost a whisper in the white noise of spoken words around me.

I didn’t even lift my head, only my eyes.

There were two women sitting just in front of me.  I knew the woman talking, just a little. I didn’t even know her name. I knew her daughter, one of the many little girls leaping around the gym, was her only child.

She was talking softly to the woman beside her.

Her eyes were wide, and her voice hitched on a word here and there. I saw more than one tear spill down her cheek while she talked.  She would quickly wipe it away.

He just left…

… said he didn’t care.

He said he won’t pay the rent…

no heat

… borrowed money from my parents

… don’t know what I’m going to do for Christmas

… what do I tell her?

… she’s only 8 years old

I overheard a lot more.

This woman’s parents, who were not well, had invited them to come there for the holiday, but her car was unreliable and driving the several hundred miles didn’t make sense, especially if there was snow.  Plus she couldn’t get the time off from work.

She was glad her daughter’s gymnastics lessons were paid up, she had time to figure something out. Her daughter loved coming here.

She had returned the gifts she had gotten her daughter…some leotards, few toys. She needed the money for food.

She also returned her daughter’s big deal gift, the one that was to be from Santa.

An American Girl Doll named Samantha.

The hottest toy for a little girl that year. 

They were out of Samanthas.

Had been out for at least a month.

I knew this.

I had one squirreled away, in the back of my closet, for Mac. She’d been talking and dreaming about her for the better part of a year.

Eventually Mac bounced through the door with her team, and we headed home through a night of flurrying snow.

Christmas just six days away.

I lasted two days, before I sat down with Mac.

She learned about Santa the year before, on the way home from gymnastics as fate would have it.

She’d asked a very direct question.

There was no way around it.

I told her the truth.

She was right.

He was not ‘real’.


But I told her the magic is real. That feeling in her belly this time of year? That is so real.  And that, when you are big, you are a part of creating that magic for other people, like her little brothers. And I promised her, it would be just as exciting when she went to bed on Christmas Eve as it had always been.

Because she was a part of creating the magic now.

She knew the secrets.

She could do this.

And, of course, she rocked it.  With all the giggles and anticipation-stoking she could do with her little brothers. Sam and Gabe were under her spell. Big sister came through big time.

And she was still like a little kid at Christmas, when Christmas came that year.

But now it was a year later, and we had the chance to create magic again, for a little girl she barely knew, and a mom we knew even less.

I told Mac what I’d heard, the abbreviated version.  Mac had always been trustworthy with secrets, I had no worries she would share anything with any of the other kids.

She asked right away, what could we do?

I took a deep breath and told her that I’d gotten her the Samantha doll. That I had her, and a few outfits for her…. I didn’t have to explain further.

“Let’s give her to Brianna!” She said, with all the earnestness I swear her little heart beheld.

I explained that, if we did that, she would not get Samantha. That there were no more Samanthas to be ordered.  They were all sold out.

That was okay.

She asked if I had any brand new leotards for her, that she and Brianna were the same size.

I said I did.

She asked what else I had.

I said I had a few special scrunchies, and a Tigger stuffed toy.

Mac said they all needed to go to Brianna.

It was okay if she didn’t get them on Christmas morning.

And so I got them all down, from the back of my closet.

And we wrapped them all.

There was only one issue.

We didn’t want Brianna to know where these gifts came from. And Brianna still believed in Santa.

Me? I wanted her Mom to believe, just a little bit, in the magic of the season too.

I can’t remember how we did our reconnaissance.

I can’t remember how we even found out their last name, let alone their town.

But I do remember hopping in the car, on Christmas Eve, having not figured out how not to let Brianna’s Mom know where the gifts came from.

We drove to their house, in one of those tired-but-great old neighborhoods where you can, literally, reach out and touch your neighbor’s house through your open window.

We left the presents in the car, thinking we would work with Brianna’s Mom to figure out how to get them inside unnoticed, and walked onto a rickety porch, and knocked on the door.


We knocked again.




And then a woman came around the corner, from the other side of the house.

We asked her if this was Brianna’s house.

The woman eyed us with suspicion, but nodded that it was.  She said she didn’t think anyone was home, and headed for the street.

So Mac and I went back to the car and retrieved the presents. We walked around to the back door on Brianna’s side of the house thinking we’d leave the gifts outside the back door.

Each gift had a tag from Santa himself.

Mac had written every one.

And just as we were about to place the gifts at the back door, something possessed me to try the doorknob, thinking if we just tucked them inside, they wouldn’t risk being stolen, and would be safe from the weather.

It was unlocked.

Mac and I looked at each other wide eyed.

She was only eight, and had no criminal record.

I had never even gotten a speeding ticket.

Thelma and Louise we were not.

But then again…

I called out, ‘Hello?’ twice.

The house responded with emptiness.

We tiptoed inside, both naturally downshifting to whispers.

I remember a worn, grey linoleum floor.

Breakfast dishes in the sink.

And I remember we both saw the lights from the Christmas tree down the hall at the same time.

We had wide eyes as we tiptoed toward it.

Mac and I placed our boxes around the tree.

I was sweating, totally sure we’d get caught.

We began to giggle.

To whisper-giggle.

We were….

We were Santa.

We got out of there without being seen, or heard, or spotted.

We smiled and imagined and wondered all the way home.

We were sworn to secrecy by the powers of Christmas, as all great makers of Christmas magic are.

Shortly after we got home, we plunged into our own Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  And I couldn’t tell you what, or what not, anyone got that year.

What I knew, and Mac knew, was that a little girl woke up to a magical Christmas morning.

And that her Mom did too.

And it would be a story they would be able to share forever.

I saw Brianna’s mom in the gym a week or so after Christmas.

I got to see someone ask her how her holidays were, and I got to hear her say, “Amazing!” with a smile, as she began to tell her story.  I didn’t get close enough to hear it.

I said nothing at all.  I had no reason to.

But I felt it.

On the ride home a few days later, Mac said that she’d overheard Brianna talking about her new American Girl doll.  She said that Santa brought her, and one of the other girls made a ‘humph’ face (Taylor was always making a humph face, Mac said) and Mac bumped that girl with her hip because it was not okay, according to Mac, for anyone to tell someone about Santa because that was a parent’s job.  She said Brianna was wearing one of her new leotards that day too, and the other girls liked it.

Mac said nothing at all.  She had no reason to.

But she felt it.

That sense that when we help one of us, we lift all of us.

We lift ourselves over the fences and barriers that block our everyday views, so we can see and feel something greater.

That there is so much caring.

So much gratitude.

So much that connects us.

So many seemingly small and insignificant things, as compared to ending world hunger or war or horrific disease, that we can do for each other (or accept from each other) that really make a difference.

A great memory is big thing.

Wonder is big thing.

Everyday magic is a big thing.

And, oh ya…

Christmas magic?



Thanks for readin’.

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