the Santa that watches over our family each year throughout the holidays.
A year ago I wrote a short story about this sweet Santa and it was published in FOLK magazine along with the photo that my nephew Ryan took. Sadly, when the magazine arrived and I opened to see and read, I realized that I had sent my rough draft to Ben instead of my finished story. I'm going to go ahead and tell his story once again, here, to all of you. It will be told a bit differently, as it will come from my head and my heart and not copied from the draft.
Many years ago, my Dad popped in to see me. He was carrying a paper bag, lunch sized. My first thought was that he brought me cookies! His first words were, "I found something for you". I remember the words, because those were words I heard from him many times. He proceeded to pull his find from the paper bag, his face lighting up as he revealed his find. I remember that moment when I laid eyes on the sweetest old Santa. At one time, when he was new and shiny, his arm animated to ring the little bell. Dad knew me well. He knew that I was a lover of anything old, Christmas and most especially that I was always drawn to the less than perfect. I didn't mind the tattered and torn, the well used, well loved or sometimes not loved enough. He knew this Santa was perfect for me, he knew my heart.
Each year as I prepare to dress our home for the holidays, I pull a brown paper bag from a cupboard. The brown bag that Dad held with this precious Santa inside. Sweet memories of Christmas' past. Years of memories with him present. Too many years of his presence only in spirit. Tears always fall, some happy, others sad. We have so many good memories of Dad, at Christmas and year round. We also have one sad memory that re visits us each year at this time. The memory that Dad spent his last Christmas in ICU at the U of M hospital. He was in need of a heart, a heart to replace the one that so much love had flowed from over the years. The doctors advised that he stood a better chance of the receipt from a donor over the holidays. We all knew that he didn't have many days before it would be too late for the gift of life he was in need of. I vividly remember that Christmas Eve, as we readied to leave his bedside for home. Giving him the choice of staying or going home with us. He gave it long thought and his answer was that he would stay, giving up this one Christmas at home in hopes of many future ones spent with all of us. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, walking out of that room and turning to tell him one last time, Merry Christmas Dad.
His last Christmas on earth, the man with a heart bigger than the sky. The transplant coordinator said that God couldn't find a heart big enough or good enough for Dad. Three weeks later she attended his funeral service, something she had never done for a patient that she wasn't supposed to form a personal attachment with. In her words, an impossible task, he had found a place in her heart. We like to think that he still holds that place in her heart and that, like all of us, she thinks of him at this time of year.