2010-12-23 / Sam Bari

How ya doin’, Santa? (Part II)

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Last week’s column ended with me looking through a knothole into the big locked room at the center of Mr. Vogel’s barn.

The giant padlock that secured the huge double doors to the room kept curious eyes from seeing an ancient green sleigh. The comfortable leather seats and ornate, hand-carved gold trim could only be found on one sleigh – and that sleigh belonged to Santa.

Long leather reins with round silver bells strung along their entire length hung on the outside wall – and they were made for that sleigh. They were the perfect length for steering eight flying reindeer.

The same sleigh was at the center of Santa Land in the big downtown department store every year before Christmas. We saw it when we went to visit Santa.

From the first time that we met, I thought Mr. Vogel looked suspiciously like Santa. The sleigh in the barn convinced me – Mr. Vogel was Santa Claus.

Nonetheless, I had to make sure – so I decided to ask him.

I left the barn and saw Mr. Vogel sitting in a rocking chair on his back porch. I approached on shaky legs. When I walked up the steps, Mr. Vogel said, “How ya doin’, sport?”

I said, “I’m okay.” Then I just blurted it out. “Mr. Vogel, are you Santa Claus?” I said it. I was scared. I thought my heart was going to stop.

Mr. Vogel smiled. He looked at me with his kind eyes.

“Now what makes you think that? He asked.

“I was exploring in the barn and I saw the reins with the silver bells hanging on the wall, Then, I looked through a knothole and saw your sleigh.”

Mrs. Vogel came out on the porch and asked if we would like to have some iced tea. I was sure she was Mrs. Claus. She looked exactly as the books described her. She brought out the iced tea and I sat on a chair next to Mr. Vogel.

When she went back inside, Mr. Vogel said, “You’re quite a little detective, sport.” And he laughed. Then he asked, “Well, can you keep a secret?”

I shook my head and said, “Yes.”

He said, “Yes. I’m Santa Claus. But I won’t be around forever. Nonetheless, Santa Claus will always be here for the children.”

I thought about that for a minute. What he said was confusing. Then he said, “But if you tell everyone and reveal my identity, kids will stop believing in Santa. If they don’t believe, there will be no reason for Santa Claus, and he’ll become a myth. So it’s up to you. Most kids wouldn’t understand.”

I didn’t know if I wanted the responsibility of being the only kid who knew the secret of Santa. But I didn’t really know much. I had no idea how Mr. Vogel became Santa. And he didn’t explain it to me.

Something told me that the mystery of Santa should remain a mystery. So I didn’t ask any more questions. And I promised not to tell – and I never did.

The following fall, my dad told us that Mr. Vogel had passed away. My parents went to his funeral while we were in school.

That winter, we visited Santa Land the same as always, and the big green sleigh was there. Santa sat in his chair and kids lined up to see him.

Santa had long white hair, a white beard, and a round belly, but he wasn’t Mr. Vogel. I saw that right away.

When my sister and I took our turn to see him, he looked right at me with a twinkle in his eye, just like Mr. Vogel did.

Then he said, “How ya doin’, sport? Good to see you. And how’s my little sandwich maker?”

That’s what Mr. Vogel would have said. How did the new Santa know?

I told him we were fine. As we were leaving, Santa said, “Tell your dad I’ll try to stop by and say hello when I make my rounds.” I told him that I would.

Just like Mr. Vogel said, he wouldn’t be around forever, but Santa would always be there as long as kids believed. I have never found a reason to think otherwise.

Santa Claus is one of the better things that come with living in a system we can’t understand.

Merry Christmas to all.

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