This fellow, who was blessed with a corpulence quite adequate to the task, had developed an annual habit of donning a Santa Claus outfit. He did this in order to bring a bit of joy to golden-agers in local retirement homes. He would drag along an enormous red-velour gift bag stuffed with knick-knacks and doodads – some of which he received by donation from friends and family, others he would purchase at reasonable prices from discount stores.
To bring this joy to the greatest number possible, he would visit three or four homes each Christmas; for more than five years he had stuck to the same ones. One fine holiday season though, he had told me, he decided to change his usual route and add a visit to a home which had opened that same year in his municipality. Being a man who saw to his commitments, he had inquired as to the exact number in residence a few days before his visit to ensure that he would bring along enough gifts.
Once he arrived there, he had discovered that his visit had been anticipated by the staff who had gathered all the residents together in the rec room, which had been nicely decorated for the occasion. In spite of the advanced age of the majority there, his arrival had been greeted with the happy smiles of children. One could even hear little cries of joy as he gave out all his presents. As he had drawn near to the bottom of his bag of gifts, he noticed an old woman slouching in her chair near a large bay window.
Wrinkled and shriveled, she held around her hunched shoulders a ratty old afghan which was about as worn out as she looked herself. As he had only one gift left – his count was right on – he had gone and knelt down next to her. He saw then that the old woman’s eyes were half-closed, and that rivulets of tears stained her weathered cheeks. Gently taking one of her tiny, fragile hands in his own, he laid there his humble gift: a little picture frame. She laid her other hand over his two and lifted her gaze. All he saw there was the sadness of a heart longing for tenderness.
“Are you really Saint Nicholas?”, she asked him.
He answered. “I’m just a friend”.
“No”, she said, “I think you’re the real one”.
“What would you like then for Christmas, my dear?”
“I would just like to see my son again before I go to heaven”, she replied with a sigh.
Thinking only of what little good he could do for her, he had tried to comfort the old woman. “You’ll see him. You’ll see him, sure enough”, he told her.
He left the retirement home soon after that to head off to his own home, quite happy with his day. But his heart was heavy with thoughts of that sad, old woman.
A few short weeks later, he had received a phone call from a nurse at that home who asked him if he could come back once again. He had inquired as to the reason for her request, but she answered only that it was a surprise.
Once on the premises, that same nurse took this Santa Claus aside and, with a tone that betrayed her surprise, had shared with him her joy at learning that he could speak German. It was his turn to be surprised, for he understood only English and French. The nurse had then told him that the old woman he had met near the window had just arrived at the home, and that it was her son in Germany who had arranged for her admission. She had been living in Quebec for only a little while, in another home, and had never spoken a word other than in her native tongue…!
“Here is the real surprise though”, the nurse had then said, and handed him a little package wrapped up in brown paper, addressed to Saint Nicholas. Upon opening the package, he found the picture frame he had given the old woman on Christmas day. In the frame, he saw a photograph of her sitting next to an unknown man.
The nurse then explained that the man was the old woman’s son who had come to visit her only a few days before she passed away. Scribbled at the bottom of the photograph, in an unsteady hand, he saw one simple word: Danke.