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“Why did we take him to see Santa in the first place?  I knew it was a mistake!”  It was Christmas Eve and our son Kevin had just gone to bed.

This was my wife Alexis, repeating her regrets for about the hundredth time in the last two weeks, since we took our son Kevin to the mall to discuss his Christmas expectations with Mr. Claus.

“Because,” said I in response… also for about the hundredth time, “he’s seven years old, but still innocent enough to believe in Santa Claus.  This is probably the last year for that magical fantasy.  Neither of us was ready to shut it down early, so off we went and now he awaits Santa’s arrival with the six special wishes he asked for.”

“A visit that is not going to happen,” said Alexis with tears forming in her eyes.

Kevin was not complicated and he was all boy.  His Santa list was made up of the six items he perceived he needed to participate in the three sports that occupied his seven year old dreams all year long.

He asked for a mitt, a bat and a ball to play baseball; a helmet and a football for the sport of the same name and a basketball to ‘shoot hoops’.

That was it, that was the sum total of his Christmas dream fulfillment.  Six lousy pieces of sporting equipment and his chances of them being delivered were in the same possibility range as was Alexis and I getting the one gift we wanted for each other, an apartment washer and dryer combo.

Every other night, either Alexis or I would go up and down the six flights of stairs to the basement of our little apartment building where the communal washer and dryer were.  We took turns so one of us was always with Kevin.  It wasn’t the trip up and down, it was the fact that every other night we couldn’t have the evening together.  There were some obnoxious teenagers in our apartment building and if you left the wash unattended they would sabotage the process by pulling the plug or taking the wash out of the dryer soaking wet.  So who ever had ‘wash duty’ it was spent in the basement laundry room for about two hours reading a book and guarding the underwear.

I guess I should give you a little background.

I’m Tom Campbell, husband of Alexis and father of Kevin.  Up until three years ago, I was employed as a manager in the marketing department of one of the largest investment banks in the world.  I made a good salary and after Kevin was born, Alexis and I bought a home on New York’s Long Island.

We stretched the budget and decided that Alexis would stay home and be an old-fashioned mom.

All went well until, as I said, three years ago.  In late summer of that fateful year, the one-hundred and fifty year old company I worked for announced it would close its doors forever.

Within five days, I was on the street with the personal belongings from my office and what was left of my retirement funds.  Not much, since most was invested in the stock of my employer.

I am not one to brood over negative happenings, so at 7:30 the next morning I was busy sending my resumé to every company in the investment banking industry.

I won’t bore you with details; I’ll cut to the results.

Needless to say, in the economy of the last three years, unemployed marketing managers from investment banks that went broke are more plentiful than fleas on a junk yard dog.

Alexis got a job first, as a telephone solicitor for a national charity.  She’s paid a base salary of minimum wage with bonuses for contributions collected in excess of a monthly threshold.  Getting over that threshold, in a worse than bad economy, doesn’t happen too often.  So for all intents and purposes, Alexis earns minimum wage.

After six months of trying to stay in my profession, I gave up the ghost and kept modifying my resumé to fit anything that would pay a decent salary.  I was told by one recruiter that every professional out of work in every profession was doing the same thing.  It had become his job to separate the people who really had experience from those who simply had better resumé writing skills.

By the end of the first eighteen months, I was becoming really good at dodging creditors and we were on the verge of losing the house when I woke one morning with a great idea.  I would write a resumé aimed at getting a job as a collector.

At the second interview, I decided to try a new approach.  It was a privately held collection agency and I was being interviewed by the owner.

When she asked me the inevitable question as to why I thought I would be a good collector, I told her that I had spent the last year dodging collectors, including some from her agency and I knew all the scams from the other side of the fence.

She burst out laughing and hired me… minimum wage plus bonus for money collected in excess of a monthly threshold.

Next, Alexis and I sat down and did a budget based on what our real cash flow would be with us both working for what is really minimum wage.  We had to make changes.

We made a deal with the mortgage company and the house was sold pretty quickly for five thousand over the mortgage and closing costs, so we had enough to pay off our credit cards and cut them up.  Left over was what we needed to pay the up-front costs of a rental.

We shopped rentals every night and weekends and finally wound up in a beautifully kept old building with large rooms and high ceilings and only twenty apartments.  It is warm, heated with hot air that comes through vents in all the rooms and it’s cozy in that there is a lot of the original wood work in mint condition.

We settled on a two bedroom apartment on the top floor overlooking a small park.

Good news, it is within our budget and the landlady is a pleasant woman about seventy-three years old who lives in an apartment on the first floor and keeps to herself.

Bad news, besides the couple of obnoxious teenagers, it is on the top floor and the building has no elevator being only five stories and built before 1950, the year elevators became a requirement.

We settled into a very different lifestyle than we had before.  We still owed people money and paid down a little each week.  There was not a nickel left over the day before each payday.

Until we learn the tricks of our respective new careers and start getting those bonuses, there is no room for luxuries of any kind… and Christmas presents are a luxury.

So here we found ourselves on Christmas Eve, with a beautiful tree (artificial) up in the living room, bought the year Kevin was born and not a single present under it.

After deciding we would address the disappointment of our seven year old boy in the morning, we went off to bed.  I fear that Christmas Eve no ‘sugar plums danced in our heads’.

~~~~

We both sat up in bed with a start.  It was seven-thirty and from the living room we heard Kevin jumping about, shouting and then running down the long hallway to our bedroom.

“He came, Mommy, Daddy, he came, he was here. I told you he would come and he did.”

“Who Kevin, who came?”

“Santa of course.  He was here during the night and it’s all there come and see, quick come and see.”

As Kevin ran back down the hallway, Alexis and I looked at each other kind of dumb-struck.

“Do you think he’s still asleep and dreaming,” Alexis said as she put on her robe and slippers and headed down the hall after Kevin.

I was moving a little slower when I heard Alexis scream, “Tom, oh my God Tom, he’s right he did come and he left everything.”

I moved more quickly with this new information and as I entered the living room there they were: a mitt, a bat and a ball to play baseball; a helmet and a football for the sport of the same name and a basketball to ‘shoot hoops’.

In the corner, away from the tree stood a brand new stainless steel, over/under washer dryer combination, specifically for apartments.

As I came into the room, Alexis and Kevin both ran to hug me and Alexis said in less than a whisper, “How did you make this happen?  Where did you get the money?”

“I didn’t, I said.  “Honest, I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Mommy, Daddy didn’t make this happen; Santa did.  The older kids at school make fun of me and my friends and say there is no Santa, but I know better, there is a Santa.  Right Daddy, how else could this have happened?”

I stared at Alexis with a look on my face that made it clear to her that I had nothing to do with it and at that moment she knew I didn’t.

I turned to Kevin who was waiting for an answer and hugging him said, “Yes Kevin, you and your friends are right, Santa, or more importantly, the spirit of Santa Claus exists and will always exist.”

~~~~

Five floors down in the apartment labeled, Mrs. Margaret Stenholm, Landlady, a little old lady was sitting in a well cushioned easy chair smiling and stroking a beautiful Burmese cat.

As she stroked she spoke softly to the cat, “Abigail, they not only don’t suspect a thing they are totally perplexed.  What a wonderful Christmas for a nice hardworking family.  Kevin together with his Mama and Papa will never be certain for the rest of their days if there really is a Santa Claus.”

You see readers; this was a very old apartment building that is heated via a network of air ducts.  Anyone in any of the apartments can hear the conversations going on in the other apartments if the vents are open, the speakers speak loudly and the listener is quiet.

Now the tenants, after some time in the building, all get to know this and either close their vents or speak softly.  Alexis and Tom haven’t made that behavior, part of their routine yet, Kevin probably never will.

So for all the weeks since Kevin went to visit Santa, Mrs. Stenholm has heard the discussions between Alexis and Tom with the out loud wishing from Kevin.

When she was certain there would be no gifts under the tree for the family she decided to keep Kevin’s belief alive for at least one more year.  As the days went on and she grew more amused with the idea, she decided to introduce doubt in Tom and Alexis about their own lack of belief.

Mrs. Stenholm knew exactly what the three residents of her fifth floor apartment wished Santa to bring.  Mrs. Stenholm had keys to every one of the apartments in her building.

Mrs. Stenholm leaned back in the easy chair and while scratching behind her cat’s ears said, “Abigail, you know that Tom is a wise man, the spirit of Santa Claus exists and will always exist.”

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