Matthew is grown now, with children of his own. He's a Warrant Officer serving in the United States Army and I have immeasurable pride in him. But, once upon a time he was five, and this is a true story for true believers. Maybe such things only come once in a life for anyone. Usually it only happens with children, anyhow. It did happen one Christmas what seems just a few years back. Santa came to bring Matthew one lone gift.
It's nice when they believe in Christmas. The best years are from about three up through Kindergarten -- roughly the time between when they really feel the excitement for the first time and the last time they only ask for one special thing and are delighted if they get it. After the first grade, though, they become little mercenaries. They still say they believe, but it's only to get a higher percentage of the items on ever growing lists.
Matthew was five the year of Santa's final true visit. Matthew took his little sister to see Santa; she was a mere three so she needed his help. "There's no reason to be scared, Susan. Santa is here to help. Just tell him what you want for Christmas and he'll come Christmas night -- if it snows." The historical record is unclear as to what, if anything, Susan requested. It's quite possible when it comes time to actually talk to Santa three-year old sisters are not troopers at all.
All Matthew wanted himself was "a machine gun" ...like the one he'd seen ...at a flea market ...one time…six months before. Santa wasn't sure if such a thing was still available. The problem when dealing with a five year old is that they really do only want one thing. Nothing else will do. When they ask for a thousand toys, no one item is missed. When they want only one thing, a thousand other toys would disappoint. Santa would find such a weapon, somewhere (and maybe a few other things, too). Matthew had, it may fairly be recalled, been a very, very good boy. And, Matthew was a believer.
From Matthew's point of view there was only one problem: "Santa can't come if it doesn't snow. He has to have snow for his sled to ride on or he will stay away." It was going to be hard to get around that fact. If a machine gun showed up on Christmas morning but snow didn't, it wouldn't be from Santa.
The weatherman, -- obviously not a believer-- intoned there would be no white Christmas for the St. Louis area that year. Matthew broke the sad news to Susan: "If it doesn't snow Santa can't come. That means we won't be getting any toys."
Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus went to bed that night assured the hard-to-find "machine gun" would be arriving on schedule, but they were not the least bit sure how Matthew would react (or what he'd believe) if there was no explanation for lack of snow.
Truly one of the great rewards of parenthood is Christmas morning. You lay there pretending to sleep and listen. With the very young come squeals, with the older there are stage whispers. The older, begin most experienced, send the younger to wake mom and dad. They sneak into the room, afraid to wake you but wanting desperately for you to get up. No one dares to touch a single thing until mommy and daddy say O.K. You feign disbelief. Are you really sure Santa left something for you? Weren't you a couple of baddies all year? Maybe it's all for daddy! Then you get up. If you're lucky they let you go to the bathroom first, but absolutely no breakfast or morning coffee until the very last package is opened.
This particular morning it was Matthew's voice which aroused the family like a Los Angeles earthquake, "It snowed!"
There it was. Not enough for to call snow in Indiana. Not really enough to be worth shoveling -- it'd be gone by noonday. But, it had indeed snowed by at least an eighth of an inch.
Then there were the tracks across the front lawn. Matthew himself showed us not only sled tracks in the "drifts", but deer prints! Here was indisputable proof Santa had come -- just as Matthew had believed he would. And there, this Christmas, unwrapped and leaning on the Christmas tree, still in its original package, was a toy machine gun.
Big brother Nathan, who was at best a doubter, thought maybe, just maybe, the sled tracks had been made by the paper boy's bicycle -- and the neighbor's Great Dane had paws as big as a reindeer. These doubts we neglected to communicate to Matthew on that particular occasion.
As the years passed the lists grew longer in direct ratio to diminishing enthusiasm for store front Santas. There would always be gifts, and Christmas, and family. As far as anyone at our house can determine, though, Kindergarten was the last time Santa came to a true believer who deserved a real visit from Santa.
There still remains one thing I've never understood. On the day of Santa's last visit I had to go to work. As I left the driveway, drove down the block, and as I turned the corner noticed a peculiar thing. Under a cloudless sky, on a relatively warm December day, there was no snow to be found. No where else in the neighborhood, nor in the city, nor in the state, nor in the two state area. Only in front of Matthew's house did it snow.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.