Years ago I wrote a short story entitled "Spectator Sport" that was published in a small magazine whose name I have long since forgotten. The story was about a young family struggling to make ends meet, who had finally scraped together enough to do some Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve. It was snowing heavily when they stopped in at a small cafe to warm themselves.
Sitting at the counter nursing a cold cup of coffee was an old man, a regular at the cafe. He had a long white beard and wore faded coveralls over a flannel shirt. A baseball cap covered his bald head and it was apparent that he had not washed in several days. He liked to sit at the far end of the counter where he had a clear view of everyone who entered, but close enough that he could eavesdrop on their conversations without having to engage himself.
The cafe was crowded on this night and the little family could only find space at the counter near the old man. The youngest of the children was a small girl of about five years old with big brown eyes that took in everything with a sense of awe and wonder. This was her first real recollection of Christmas and she was fascinated by the all the lights, sounds and colors of the season.
She stared in wonder at the old man seated next to them and finally he smiled back at her. In youthful innocence, she turned to her mother and asked, "Is that Santa Clause's brother? "Well, if it is," she said quietly, "we mustn't disturb him." She gave the old man an apologetic look, but the little girl continued to stare.
The old man seldom interacted with anyone at the cafe. He preferred to live on the edges of other people's lives by listening and watching their interactions with each other. But this time he couldn't resist the temptation to participate in the wonder of the season with a small girl.
"I really am Santa's brother, you know," he said to her conspiratorially. "But this is such a busy time for him, that I seldom get to see him!"
"That must be really lonely for you," the girl answered.
The old man reflected on this for a few moments, "You're only lonely if you allow yourself to be," he said finally. "Santa's family is made up of all the children in the world, so since we're brothers, they are my family too!"
The old man and the little girl chatted together for several moments while the older child and her parents nodded and smiled in encouragement. She wanted to know about his house and his pets and if he knew any of the elves personally. The old man soon warmed to the story and answered her questions with sincerity and authority.
When the family gathered their things to leave, he reached in his pocket and found a shiny half dollar he didn't know he had. He handed the coin to the little girl, "Santa told me you would be stopping by," he said. "And he asked me to give this to you."
The little girl's eyes widened in wonder," He knew I was coming?" she asked taking the coin in her mittened hand. She paused for a moment and then gave the old man a big hug. "I don't have a present for him, but can you give him this hug for me?"
The old man smiled, "Of course! And I'll tell him it comes especially from you."
The little girl waved gaily as she left with her parents. When the old man turned back to the counter, he found that his coffee cup had been filled and there was a warm cinnamon roll next to his cup. He looked up in surprise, but there was no one else around. The cafe had emptied out and the wait staff had retreated to the kitchen to clean up for closing time. The silence in the cafe was broken only by the sound of carols coming from the radio and the soft tinkle of bells.
During this holiday season, let us never forget the magic of Christmas and the wonder of the season!
Best Wishes for a Joyous New Year! -Wanda DeHaven Pyle