NORMAN — Editor’s note: The following story is the winner of this year’s Transcript Christmas story contest. Other stories will be published as space permits.
Hippie. Bum. Biker. I’ve heard it before and have grown accustomed to it. Yes, I have had long hair and a beard since I graduated high school more than 40 years ago. Now I appear as a derelict of sorts, graying more as the years pass.
The only sign of not being threatening is my clothing. On that occasion, however, when I am working around the house or in the yard and have to make a quick trip to town, I conjure up visions of a questionable nature.
Several years ago during the holiday shopping rush, I found myself out late and had not eaten dinner. I called ahead to a local establishment to place an order that I could pick up on my way home and share with my family who were waiting for me.
As I queued in the line, a father was standing in front of me with his daughter’s head resting quietly on his shoulder. Her dark eyes looked at me somewhat questioning. I managed a small smile almost undistinguishable through the hair on my face.
She finally raised her head and said loudly, “Daddy, its Santa.” There was uneasiness in the air and the place grew quiet. I could sense the curiosity, yet fear of the father wondering if he should turn around.
Finally, he started making a slow turn to the side to behold what his daughter proclaimed. He eyed me over with disdain and returned to his original position, saying, “No, that’s not Santa.”
The line moved up and the father was busy conducting his business at the counter. The girl continued to stare at me with a questioning look in the deep recesses of her eyes. She was looking at me without prejudice, bias or any preconceived thoughts.
A reflexive action took over my soul, as thoughts of my own children, into their late 20s and early 30s, and of how impressionable they were at an early age and their wide-eyed wonderment of all things associated with the Christmas season.
I delivered to those questioning eyes the biggest smile that could be construed through my beard and gave her a wink.
As the father was turning to leave the restaurant and I made my way to the counter, the girl could be heard saying, “It is. It is Santa.” I went home that night knowing that even if for a few years, days or hours, that girl would believe she had a personal moment with Santa and would remember the glint in my winking eye.
I can’t remember a Christmas that had more of an impact on me as a father than that night in the take-out line.