In search of the real Mr. Claus
It was Christmas Eve, and I couldn’t sleep. I heard men’s voices on the first floor, so I sneaked 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 had helped my little sister make 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. The entire time he was there, I couldn’t help but think that I saw him someplace else, and it wasn’t in a department store. He looked suspiciously like a farmer named Mr. Vogel. He lived just beyond the edge of town on a big spread. He even had an orchard.
During the summer, we would stop by his farm for fruit and vegetables. That was about the only time we saw him.
He looked just like Santa Claus. He had long white hair and a beard. His hair covered his ears, so I couldn’t see if they were pointed. Santa was an elf, so he would have pointed ears.
Later that year, we were at Mr. Vogel’s farm the summer after Santa visited my house. My mom and dad were picking peaches while I went exploring.
At the back of the barn was a big set of double doors secured by a padlock on a large latch. I wondered what was inside, so I went into the barn where I could look between the boards.
I found a knothole and peered in. Right before my eyes was the evidence I needed. Inside that locked barn was a big ornate sleigh with a curved wooden front and sides, and soft velvet cushions on the seats. On the front was a fancy, hand-carved “S.” It was Santa’s sleigh, and it was in Mr. Vogel’s barn. I was right. Mr. Vogel was Santa Claus. I knew it.
I ran out of the barn, and saw Mr. Vogel on his porch smoking a pipe. If he were wearing a red suit, he would definitely be Santa Claus. Now I knew why we never saw him in the winter. The toy factory at the North Pole needed him. However, I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask.
“Hi, Mr. Vogel,” I stammered.
“Well how ya doin’, sport?” he replied. That’s just what he said to me when he was in our kitchen. He called me “sport.”
“I’m good,” I said. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” he said.
“Where are the reindeer?” I asked.
“Reindeer?” he asked with a puzzled expression on his face. “I imagine they’re up North grazing on the grassy plains.”
“Do they fly down to pick you up at Christmas?”
“Now what kind of a question is that?” Mr. Vogel asked.
“I saw the sleigh in the barn. You’re Santa Claus, aren’t you?”
“Now let’s not let our imaginations run away with us,” he said smiling.
“It’s okay,” I replied. “I won’t tell a soul.”
“I hope not. You’re the only little boy who knows. It wouldn’t be good for that to get around.”
“Not to worry, Santa. Your secret is safe with me,” I said.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, when I took my little sister to see Santa at the department store, that sled was parked in Santa Land for everyone to see. It was all shiny and filled with presents. When it was our turn, I asked him, “Where are the reindeer?” He looked at me and winked. “They’re up north grazing while I visit with you kids.” Then he said, “You take care, sport. Tell your dad I said, hi.”
The other kids treated me like a rock star after that. My dad knew Santa. But I never gave away our secret. It remained one of the mysteries of life in a system we can’t understand.