Here is part two of this very special Christmas story. I hope you enjoy it. If you haven’t yet, I hope you consider making a small Donation to Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They do great work and are helping find a way to make it so every child with cancer has a fighting chance. Just like my friend Lanae. Any way enjoy the second part of the story, and come back tomorrow for the conclusion.
Friday dawned and Gerald went all out. He showered and teased his beard so that it stood out full and fluffy. Pulled the old-fashioned glasses that he wore when in costume. He put the suit in the back of his car and sat down to put the final shine on his boots and belt. Once they shone like the midday sun, he put them in the car as well. Then he realized he had two hours before he needed to be at the church. He knelt once more and asked God to strengthen him for the day ahead. As he prayed, he felt an urge to call his old boss at the mall. He needed something special and the vision in his mind was so strong that he knew it must be from God.
There was nothing to do but answer, so he picked up the phone and dialed. “Hey Mr. Johnson, it’s Gerald Daniels. You know how you said if there was anything I needed just call? Well, I’m going to be visiting some sick children with my church this afternoon and I was wondering, is that giant teddy bear still in the toy store? It is? I know this is asking a lot, but would you purchase it for me? I’ll be right down to get it and pay you back, I just didn’t want it to disappear before I got there. Great, thank you, I’ll be there as soon as I go by the bank. Yes, sir, I appreciate that. Goodbye.”
Gerald jumped in his car and went straight to the bank and withdrew a couple hundred dollars. That should cover the cost of the bear. He wished the girl at the drive-through a Merry Christmas in his best Santa voice and was pleased to see her smile and wish him the same. He’d been wrong to not play Santa this year. Just the simple act of wishing her a Merry Christmas had lifted his spirit more than anything else he’d tried since Darlene’s death.
He pulled in the parking garage at the mall and headed straight for the manager’s office. When he got there, Mr. Johnson’s secretary told him that the boss wished him to come down to the toy store. Gerald caught the next elevator and exited on the first floor and headed to the giant toy store in the center of the mall. When he arrived he saw Mr. Johnson looking for him out front. Gerald waved, and the man motioned him over. “Gerald, it’s good to see you. How are you holding up?”
“It’s been tough, but I’m making it day by day.”
“Well, I was thrilled to get your call. Even though you didn’t come back here this year, I’m glad you didn’t put your suit away for good. You were just too good a Santa to not do it at all.”
“Well I’ll be honest, I wasn’t going to be Santa this year, but the man who’s done it at the church for years is sick. I couldn’t let those kids down when I have the suit sitting in my closet.”
“Good. Listen, I talked to the owner of the toy store and told him what you were doing. He said that was a great cause and he is sending a whole truckload of toys over to your church. It should be there by the time you get there.”
Gerald’s eyes filled with tears that he fought hard to keep from leaking out. “That’s wonderful! I’d better call and let the lady in charge knows.”
“That’s fine, but before you go he wanted me to give you this.” Mr. Johnson pulled the four-foot tall teddy bear out of the window and handed it to Gerald. “Merry Christmas, Santa.”
Gerald laughed. “Merry Christmas to you as well, Mr. Johnson! And thank the owner for me when you next see him, will you?”
“Of course, Gerald, and next year I expect you to be back out there in Santa land. I won’t take no for an answer again.”
“You can count on it, sir.”
“Great, now go make your call and encourage some sick kids for us.”
The two men shook hands and Gerald pulled his cell phone from his pocket as he headed to his car with a giant bear under the other arm. People couldn’t help but stare and even laugh at the man who looked like Santa toting a giant toy bear through the mall. Gerald got hold of Pastor Hank and informed that a truck from the toy store was on its way and that they’d need to get some people to help unload.
“It’s here already, Gerald. The youth group was getting ready to go caroling so I got some of them to help out. How in the world did you pull this off? We talked to the toy store manager a month ago and heard nothing.”
“Let’s just say that they really want their Santa back.”
“I guess so! Well, it’s a godsend for certain. See you when you get here.”
“I’m on my way now. Should be there by noon for certain.”
“Are you okay?”
“You know, Pastor, I’ve never felt better.”
Gerald hung up and realized that what he’d just told the pastor was true. He really hadn’t felt this good since Darlene’s diagnosis three years ago. Maybe, just maybe, God was healing his broken heart. While the thought of entering the cancer center was still troubling, he was looking forward to giving those kids toys and telling them about the Boy who was born that day so long ago.
Before he knew it, he was pulling into the church parking lot. He waved at the employees from the toy store as they pulled away. The Christmas spirit was alive in his heart and about to bubble out in that infamous laugh. Now to just get dressed and look the part.
Dressed and ready to go, Gerald stepped out of the men’s room into the fellowship hall. Everyone clapped and cheered when they saw their Santa. “Wow, Mr. Daniels, you look so authentic.”
“Thank you, Valerie. It was the one thing Darlene made sure of every year. She didn’t want the kids to think they got a fake Santa.”
“Well, I don’t think anyone can say that after today. Not only do you look the part but we’re gonna have to take two vans with all the toys you got us today.”
“If it’s all right with you I’m going to take my own car.”
“No, that’s fine, we just didn’t want to make everyone pay for parking. Okay, everyone, let’s get loaded up and head to the hospital. There are a bunch of sick kids waiting for us.”
Everyone gathered and Pastor Hank said a quick prayer that they would shine with the love of Christ to not just the kids but their parents and the staff as well. Then everyone piled into the vans and, following behind Gerald, they set off to the cancer center to cheer up some kids who could really use a boost of love and hope.
The closer they got to the hospital, the more nervous Gerald became. As he parked in the parking garage, he took a moment to pray, asking for peace and joy to flow out of him. Then with a deep breath, he exited the car and, grabbing his velvet bag, headed over to the van with all the toys and asked for it to be loaded up. He wanted to step off the elevator in character. His “elves” smiled and put an assortment of toys in the bag.
Valerie came up and said, “I have a list of what each kid wants that we got from them on Monday when we came and did letters for Santa. So stop outside each room and I’ll make sure that is on the top for you. It will help sell that you’re really him if you reach in and pull out just what they want.”
Gerald nodded. “Great idea. What about kids that have come in since then?”
“There may be a few, but we have so many toys that I’m sure we can cover them. What’s left we will just put in the play room for the hospital to use and they all will get to enjoy them.”
“Maybe have one of the ladies go to any parent of new kids and see what they might have wanted.”
“That’s a great idea. We’ll have to have runners out here, too, it’s gonna take a while to unload all those toys.”
“I reckon that’s right. Okay, are we ready? Then let’s go bring some joy to their little lives.”
Gerald and company stepped into the elevator and Valerie punched the button for the Children’s floor. The group all waited silently with nervous anticipation. As the light for the floor before theirs lit up Gerald said, “Let me in front. You all follow my lead here.
Ding! The door opened and they were all amazed as Gerald Daniels ceased to exist and Santa himself strode off the elevator. His head was high and the stuffed sack was thrown over his back. “HO!HO! HO! MERRY CHRISTMAS! I HEAR THERE ARE PEOPLE HERE LOOKING FOR ME, IS THAT RIGHT?”
Little heads popped out of doorways, some without hair, some with hats and do-rags, some with wigs and some with face masks because the treatments had so depleted their immune systems. But in that moment you wouldn’t have known they were sick at all, for the joy and wonder on their faces was a plain as the love and joy coming off of Santa himself. With just two more strides forward the floodgates broke and the wave of children started making its way straight for Santa. Nurses were busy trying to wrangle children and keep some kind of order. “Now, children, I will come and visit every single one of you – but only if you behave. I would hate to check this list,” Santa pulled the famous Naughty and Nice list from an inside pocket, “and find that you’ve gone from nice to naughty because you wouldn’t listen to your nurses.
The children suddenly turned and scrambled as fast as they could back to their rooms.
One of the nurses looked at the group. “Thank you, Santa. You wouldn’t mind leaving that list here when you go, would you?”
“HO! HO! HO! You just want to see where your own name is, don’t you?”
The woman smiled and wagged a finger. “You always could see through me.”
Then she looked over at Valerie. “We had a new arrival yesterday. Two-year-old girl. They airlifted her here. She had a very large tumor in her brain. They did emergency surgery right after she arrived. She just came down from the surgery wing. I’m sorry we didn’t get to notify you.”
Valerie smiled. “Don’t worry we can handle it. Thanks to Santa here, we have an overabundance of toys.”
Gerald, still the consummate Santa, said, “What is her name? I need to know her when we go in her room. It helps keep up the mystery of Santa.”
Then the floor dropped out from underneath him as he heard, “Her name is Darlene. She’s such a sweet little thing, too.”
Valerie reached out a hand and gripped Gerald by the arm. “Are you okay? Do you need to sit down?”
Santa shook off the fear that had gripped his heart and shook his head. He cleared his throat of the lump that had suddenly formed. “No, I’m okay was just a bit of a shock. Let’s start spreading some hope and love, shall we? Who’s first?”
With those words, Valerie took his bag and rummaged around and sat two toys on the top. Then she gave him the name of the little boy who was in the first room. Before long, Santa was entering a room and Ho, Ho, Hoing, letting every child know they were on the nice list and then handing them the toy they’d asked for, plus another one as well.
Room after room he went, always with a toy and always with a laugh. In each room, he shared that the reason Santa brought boys and girls presents was to remind them of the love of God, which gave them each a great present – His own Son – to be their Savior and friend. After more than two hours, every room was done save one. The one he had dreaded the most. The one he’d avoided till last. The volunteers had brought in all the toys and Valerie and went in earlier to see what the little girl wanted. Valerie had learned that she’d said nothing since her surgery, but her mom had let them know that she loved stuffed animals. Valerie had ran to the toys and had searched and searched. Not a single stuffed animal was left. Gerald knew why. Darlene’s gift was sitting in the passenger seat of his car. He grabbed one of the volunteers and handed the young man his keys. “Go out to my car and grab what you see in the passenger’s seat. Bring it to me as fast as you can.”
The young man took off at the fastest walking pace he could manage without actually breaking out in a run. Santa and Valerie waited.
“What is in your car, Gerald?”
Santa’s eyes twinkled “Just you wait and see. God knew this special little girl was here and that I needed to see her. Just wait, you’ll understand.”
Within a few minutes, the elevator dinged and out came the volunteer struggling with the 4-foot-tall pink and white teddy bear. Valerie’s mouth dropped open, as did the mouths of most of the nursing staff. “Oh, my goodness! Where did that come from?”
Santa laughed. “Same place as all the rest, my workshop”
He took the bear and stuffed it into his sack with its head sticking out up to its neck. He grabbed a box of stacking blocks and put them in the bag as well. Then he turned toward the door and after breathing a little prayer for strength, he entered the room of the little girl with his wife’s name.
To be concluded tomorrow…