2007-12-20 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

Hi, Santa! Good to see you again
By Sam Bari

Last year, along about this time, I wrote the story of how I met Santa Claus right in my own kitchen. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe I was about 6 or 7 years old at the time. Anyway, I was in the second grade.

It was Christmas Eve, and as usual, I couldn't sleep. I heard men's voices on the first floor, so I decided to sneak down the stairs to see who was there. If I leaned over the railing, I could look into the kitchen where a man was talking to my father. I leaned over the railing all right, and just about fell head first onto the floor below.

Sitting at the kitchen table, his red coat and big black belt hanging over the chair behind him, was Santa Claus, eating a ham sandwich I helped my little sister make for him before we went to bed. The jolly old elf was staring right at me. I was caught in the act, red-handed. I couldn't escape, and I thought my life was ruined forever.

But no. Santa was a kind old soul and he invited me in to say hello. I was speechless. My dad and Santa were friends. I had no idea. After he finished his sandwich, he wished us a goodnight, and then stopped at my friend Brian's house a couple of doors down. He even went up to his room to wish him a Merry Christmas.

Nothing could have been more exciting. As far as Brian and I were concerned, our life was perfect. Santa came to our houses on Christmas Eve and visited us personally. I didn't think anything could be cooler than that.

A couple of days later, I wrote Santa a letter thanking him for taking the time to visit. And I think I said something about how glad I was to meet him. He didn't answer, but I didn't expect that he would. I was sure he got millions of letters from kids all over the world, and he didn't have time to answer them all.

When we returned to school after the New Year, we told that story to everyone. The sad thing was, nobody believed us. We were the laughing stock of the first and second grade. I went home and told my dad, and all he said was, "It's best to keep some things to yourself, son. You have to admit, if one of your friends told you that story, you'd have a hard time believing it, too."

He was right, it did sound like an awful tall tale. But it was true, and I never backed down, no matter how much the other kids laughed at me. Even my teacher said that Brian and I had "overactive" imaginations.

Well, as the saying goes, "Every dog has his day." And about a week before Christmas of the following year, I had mine, and it was sweet.

It happened the day I took my little sister to the local department store so she could visit Toyland and sit in Santa's lap to tell him what she wanted for Christmas. My classmates, Pookie Grossberg and Louie Hammerman, who later became "Louie the Lip," were also waiting in line to see Santa. I remember hoping that Santa would remember me, but I didn't hope too much. He met so many kids. Why would he remember me? I thought.

As it turned out, Santa did not disappoint me. When it was our turn in line, he looked at me and said, "How ya doin' sport? Good to see you again. I got your letter. Thanks a lot." I said, "Hi, Santa! Good to see you again, too. And you're quite welcome." Then he looked at my sister and said, "And who's this? I bet this is the best sandwich maker in the whole world." Then he picked her up and sat her on his lap. She was so dumbfounded she couldn't talk. She just hugged him and giggled. Santa told her that he had never had a ham sandwich that tasted so good.

Then Santa said the magic words, "Why don't you give me a minute or two with your sister? If I have time, I'll stop by and see you on Christmas Eve." I said, "Sure thing Santa. See you soon."

Every kid in that line looked at me as if I were a rock star. "Wow! He does know Santa!" Pookie Grossberg exclaimed. "Yeah, he wasn't lying," Louie Hammerman agreed. I had been vindicated, and it felt good.

As it happened, I missed Santa's visit that year. I must have fallen asleep. However, a note on the kitchen table the next morning was a testament to Santa keeping his word. It said, "Sorry I was so late. Thanks a lot for the sandwich. I hope you like your new bicycle. See you next year." And it was signed - Santa.

I'll never forget meeting Santa. He reminded me a lot of another friend of my dad's. His name was Mr. Vogel. He was retired. Once in awhile dad would take us over to his house to visit him. His wife always had fresh made cookies to give us. He, too, was a kind soul, just like Santa. Anyway - meeting Santa was one of the highlights of growing up in a system we can't understand.

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