junio 09, 2016

A Christmas for Real!

December the first! The day had arrived! Little Johnny hardly had any sleep the night before. He was now seven years old, and this was the day he'd been waiting for since he learned how to read and write a few months ago.
He could finally write his own "letter to Santa." It was his mother who wrote them for him in previous Christmases, but they were heavily censored, and apparently she didn't write very well, because many of the things he had asked Santa for, he either didn't get or were replaced by things he hadn't asked for; and which, frankly, he didn't like.
Besides, his mother was always trying to convince him to ask for other toys. For example, when he asked for a toy race car he had seen on TV, a "dinky toy," like all his friends had, he got instead a white ambulance, small and very pretty, but how can you run races with an ambulance? He knew ambulances always went very fast because of the sick and everything, but they never competed in a race!
  "Mom... have you ever seen an ambulance in a car race? What are my friends going to say?"
  "Aw Johnny, I think it's very nice. When you dad watches the races, I always see there's an ambulance."
  "But mom, that's for the accidents; they never race against the other cars!"
  "Don't worry, your friends will like it."
But little Johnny worried, so he ended up camouflaging the ambulance with crayons and leaves so he could say it was a "war vehicle. " The same thing happened when he asked for a real rifle and Santa brought him instead a tin rifle that shot a tiny cork, which was tied with a string so it wouldn't get lost.
So now that he knew how to write, he was going to make his own list, without any intermediaries. But since his writing was not perfect and it could have some orthographic mistakes, he thought of Mario, his neighbor, who was about four years older than him, who without censuring his letter, could help him correct any mistakes.
Little Johnny had everything planned. It would take him three days to write the letter, one day to correct it with Mario, and one day to put in an envelope and wait for the postman - who came by every day.
Although almost no one knew the postman, little Johnny had established a friendship with him without anybody noticing it. He asked him where letters went, who got the most in the neighborhood, and how they were sent. He learned about stamps and everything.
One afternoon in November, he dared ask the postman how much it would cost to send a letter to the North Pole, to Santa specifically. The postman, smiling, told him that letters to Santa were free and needed no stamps. Then little Johnny asked if he could give the letter to him when he was done writing it; to which the postman replied: "But of course! I'll make sure it goes out on the first shipment to the North Pole. "
Little Johnny smiled mischievously. Everything was taken care of. Now Santa would be receiving the original information, not via third-parties. There would be no misunderstandings, no erroneous interpretations.
So this day he got up. It was Saturday and everybody was sleeping in, especially his sisters, four in all, who were always on his case. They were always talking nonsense, cried about anything, and never paid attention to his problems. In particular Monica, the eldest, made his life impossible. He had a strange premonition this would haunt him for the rest of his life.
He had brought from the school some sheets of double-lined paper, where he could write easier. He sat down at his tiny table and began the letter. After careful consideration, he decided it would be better to get right to the point. His mother used to remind him of the good things he had done, and of times when he misbehaved, and to little Johnny's embarrassment and detriment, she would write that down on the letter. He thought it was best to just say he had been good "in general," without getting into details, and that he had good grades. This last point was very good, since Santa could ask the school and for sure they would give good references, in particular Miss Becky, who was very fond of him. Unlike Ms. Carmen, the Spanish teacher, who probably didn't have anything nice to say about him; but the grades were there, and they don't lie.
Immediately he proceeded to the part he had practically memorized: "for Christmas I would like..."
Little Johnny had given a lot of thought to what he wanted for Christmas and how to avoid getting presents that didn't match his specifications. He was pretty well-organized for his age. He looked for a way in which his wishes would not be misinterpreted, like the cork gun he got instead of the real thing. His dad said "but son, it's real. It doesn't shoot bullets, but it shoots." There was some truth to that
After three full days, and numerous attempts, he finally figured it out! He had the perfect solution. It was foolproof. There was no way he could be getting something different from what he asked. And so he continued with the letter: "...a real dog, a real cat, a real elephant, a real giraffe, a real whale, a real lion, a real tiger..."
The list was long. After he was done, little Johnny had asked for 26 real animals. This couldn't fail. Real animals are alive, so Santa couldn't mistake that for something else.
He finished the letter, and on Sunday he went to see Mario, who knew he was to only correct orthographical and grammatical errors, since little Johnny had made it clear this was the scope of his job.
A smirking Mario corrected the letter and said:
  "Johnny, don't you think those are too many animals? Santa doesn't bring that many gifts for anybody."
  "Yes, I thought about that," replied Johnny, "but I'll be happy if he brings me 10."
  "But even 10 is too many," said Mario.
  "But you don't understand Mario," continued Johnny, "when my mother wrote the letters for me, we would end up asking for four or five gifts, and end up getting only two or three. So that's why I now ask for more."
Shrugging his shoulders, Mario says:
  "I don't think that's the way it works, but it's your letter Johnny."
Back in his room, and with the door blocked so his sisters couldn't barge in, he proceeded to place the letter in an envelope, sealing it with glue so it wouldn't open easily, and using another letter as a sample, he wrote his name and address on the back of the envelope. Then he turned it over and on the front center he wrote in big letters:
Mr. Santa
North Pole
Planet Earth
He patiently waited for the postman to come by. On Friday he finally came, and little Johnny ran to meet him: "Alex! Alex! Here's my letter to Santa." Alex, tired from delivering so many Christmas cards, and annoyed because the neighbours had not tipped him as much as is customary on Christmas, accepted the letter without any fanfare, "okay, I'll send it over," he said and continued on his tiresome journey.
When his day was done, the postman got home and placed the letter on a table top, where it remained for many days. On December the 24th, Alex - who had that day off - noticed Johnny's letter. He had intended to give this letter to little Johnny's parents, so they would know what he wanted.
Alex was a lonely character. He never married. He had short flings with two or three women, but that went nowhere. An only child, he was a full of idiosyncrasies and was a hopeless bachelor approaching 60. He was very shy, hardly had any friends, but he was a very good person. Whenever he could, he would help someone in need, and always preferred to remain anonymous.
He hadn't seen little Johnny since he had given him the letter. He wondered how he would feel when he saw that he didn't get any of the presents he had asked for in his letter. It was too late to talk with his parents. They wouldn't have time to buy anything, and they would probably give him a hard time for ruining little Johnny's Christmas.
He felt his heart shrink and decided to open the letter. A few years ago, at an office Christmas party, they asked him to dress as Santa because he was chubby. He tried to get out of it but ended up having to suit up as Santa and spending the whole party having other employees' kids sitting on his lap and giving each one of them a present. It wasn't too bad after all. He had always liked kids. So a thought crossed his mind. It was a bit adventurous for him, but he felt he had no choice... until he read little Johnny's letter.
It was almost ten at night, and all stores were closing. He quickly retrieved his old Santa suit, put it on, shaved his big moustache so he could glue in the white beard and moustache. Put on the white wig, and he thought he'd done a pretty good job when he checked himself in the mirror.
With just the letter and his wallet, he raced to the closest pet store around. They were already closing, and he explained his predicament. The shop owner let him in, and Alex immediately saw what he was looking for. It was like a shiny golden ball, with jet black eyes and an almost human gaze. He could easily fit in one hand.
The puppy cost almost a month's salary for Alex, but he bought it without hesitation. As he was leaving, the owner said "You should know this is a purebred Golden Retriever, son of champions. I have all the papers; you can pick them up any time you wish."
The postman smiled and thought to himself that those papers would never be necessary. They gave the puppy to him in a cardboard box, with holes so it could breathe. Alex had no car, and there was no public transportation at that time of the night. He figured it would take him an hour and a half to make it to little Johnny's house. He started walking briskly.
Meanwhile, at little Johnny's house, John and Lucy were very worried. They four daughters had given them their letters to Santa, but they couldn't get little Johnny to give them one. Whenever they asked him for it, little Johnny would tell them not to worry about it, that it had all been taken care of. With his seven years, little Johnny would sometimes amaze with his answers and stubbornness. More than stubborn, he was obstinate and perseverant. Once he made up his mind, it was very difficult to get him to change his mind.
His father would tell him:
  "Look son, if you don't give me the letter, I won't be able to send it, and Santa won't know what to bring you. I warn you, you'll end up with no presents!"
  "Dad, he already knows what I want," little Johnny would reply, "I don't need to send another letter."
John and Lucy figured he must've written a letter himself and dropped it in the post box. So his mother, Lucy, insisted:
  "Letters can get lost, and if they don't have enough stamps, they get returned, and it would be too late by then."
But little Johnny had all the answers:
  "Don't you know, mom, that letters to Santa don't need stamps? Everyone knows that..."
Lucy anguished a lot. Her pampered little man of the house, so independent and rational, was sometimes too much for her. John was more practical. He kept trying to glean what toy he wanted form innumerable choices, but little Johnny wouldn't budge. They were not aware that little Johnny was afraid they would contact Santa and make changes to his requests, or something like that.
Finally, John lost his cool and told Lucy:
  "This kid is stubborn as a mule! Screw it! I'm getting him a pair of dinky cars, a beach bucket, and a football. If he likes them, fine; if not, then he'll learn his lesson for next time. We'll have to tell him that his letter got lost because he didn't hand it to us."
  "Aw John," said Lucy, "Poor thing. It breaks my heart. He's so special. Sometimes I feel so proud of him and other times he drives me crazy."
  "You're right," agreed John, "he's a good boy, and very mature for his age. We'll see how this pans out."
Finally midnight came around. After exchanging greetings, the kids ran to the Christmas tree to open their presents. Little Johnny was standing in front of the tree, and couldn't see any of his animals. Lackadaisically, he opened his presents - which were not at all what he had asked for. He thought to himself: "So what that fat Murphy kid says is true; Santa doesn't exist, and the presents are bought by our parents."
He was experiencing his first great disappointment and felt great pain. All that effort for naught!
Alex kept walking in a hurry, and 20 minutes past midnight, he makes it to little Johnny's house. He had to take a few minutes break to dry his sweat, catch his breath, and arrange his costume. Exhausted, he knocks on the door. Lucy opens the door, and when she heard the man dressed as Santa say: "Good evening Ma'am, is little Johnny home?" She didn't know what to say, and simply pointed to him.
Little Johnny lifted his head and his heart stopped. There was Santa in the flesh, with a box in his hands! When he summoned him, little Johnny couldn't tell if he was floating in air or if his feet were moving. When he got to Santa, he heard him say: "Little Johnny, I'm sorry I'm late; this was a very busy night for me, but I wanted to come personally to tell you that a letter to Santa is not a list of everything you'd like to have. It should be just one thing; the one you want the most. I can't bring toys to many children because I don't have enough time or enough presents to give out. You're fortunate, and because of that I've brought you one of the 26 things you had in your list. But next year, I want you to think carefully about what you want to ask for."
Then he handed little Johnny the box. Upon opening it, little Johnny looked at the puppy and exclaimed: "Noel!" while the small puppy jumped up to lick his face. From that moment on, Noel and little Johnny became inseparable, and they both knew they'd be together for a lifetime.
John and Lucy were stunned. After Santa said good bye to little Johnny and the girls - who were speechless, he got to the door and John asked what that was all about.
Alex lied: "You don't know me, but I found his letter on the street, and I thought about the kid not getting anything this Christmas. I can't help every child who'll be getting nothing this Christmas, but I decided to help at least one. Good night and Merry Christmas."
Evidently, no one recognized him. Only Noel, who knew the truth, wagged his tail enthusiastically each time he saw Alex, and jumped up and put his front paws on his chest, since he had become a very big dog.
The following year, little Johnny wrote a new letter, which this time made it to his parents. It just said: "Dear Santa, I've behaved very well this year and I've gotten excellent grades. For Christmas, I want you to give my present to another kid, who got nothing last year."
John and Lucy were teary-eyed, and from that year on, they organize for Christmas deliveries of presents to poor families in the area. Nobody knows what eventually became of Alex.
Little Johnny grew up to be a veterinarian, and to this day he's convinced that, mysteriously, Santa does exist.
And that was a "for real" Christmas.