the solar express

Five years ago Miss Mindy got stood up by Santa. She had made arrangements with a local helper to show up at the preschool Christmas party; think twenty four children and their parents in our home waiting for Saint Nick, the no-show. When I reached him by phone he said he was in a fender-bender.

The following year Miss Mindy decided not to depend on the kindness of feigned saints and produced a nativity for parents to enjoy. The day previous I came across a Santa suit at Target and decided to crash Miss Mindy’s as her students concluded the greatest story ever told.

The preschool was in our walk-out basement where I waited outside for my cue. When Merry Christmas was wished, I opened the door and entered with a satchel full of gifts for the children. The gift I got in turn, and cherish to this day, was the look on Miss Mindy’s face. She was an instantaneous believer in Santa Claus.

She now works with children at a large child development center for a local healthcare provider and today Santa made his third appearance. He read The Polar Express to the kids and gave away candy canes and sleigh bells.

I’ve done a number of appearances, most of which on stage, from Harold Hill to The Stage Manager in Our Town, none of which bear the weight of stewardship that comes with Saint Nick. Spontaneous but carefully thought-out, giving without the promise of a gift, remembering without the benefit of ever really being there.

And children adore you. Most of them. Breaks my heart when Santa makes the young ones cry.

The payoff for me, besides the kids, is in the drive to and from the hospital. Twenty eight degrees, top down, Christmas music blaring; everybody loves to see Santa. I love to see the smiles, though none will ever compare to the one that flashed across Miss Mindy’s face after the nativity, just before she started to cry.

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