Those of you who know me by now know that I grew up working at my family's hardware store on the Connecticut shoreline... I worked there what felt like literally everyday after school, and every day in the summer. The store was started by my grandfather and has been in our family since 1939 and Wal-Mart is a curse word in our house :). Anyways! One holiday tradition at Page's is to have Santa's Mailbox out front between Thanksgiving and Christmas, for all the kids in town to write to Santa and receive a letter back from him*.
Every year there are a few letters that trickle in on Christmas Eve, and I have always been the one to step in to some hefty shoes and write back to the children. I usually include a little black and white cartoon picture of rudolf so the recipient can have fun coloring after they read the letter. Once they're all written, I drive around town (usually with my brother) and put all the letters in the mailboxes - if it's close to the end of the day, I call the house and tell them Santa just dropped a letter off in the mailbox and the kids get all excited.
Well one year in particular (back when I was in college, working at the store over holiday break), I was going through the last-minute letters and a little boy arrived with his mother, who was telling him "it's too late, Santa won't be able to write back in time" - I told her we would do what we could and smiled at the little boy, who's letter asked "Dear Santa, All we want is a Christmas tree. We know we couldn't afford one last year but we don't even want any presents, just a tree". This broke my heart and luckily at the store we also sell artificial, pre-lit trees and holiday decorations galore. Together with the rest of the crew who happened to be working, we purchased several ornaments and decorations, and a few small toys, and my brother and I set off on our way to drop off the surprise. We waited until after dinnertime and drove to the address from the letter. The funniest part was - I was driving so poor Todd had to be the "runner". But we had already decorated the tree so it wasn't exactly something you could "run" with, and there were also a few gifts. But I had to be in the car, ready to make our getaway so the kids wouldn't see us! I explained in the letter to the children that we had to drop the tree off on the front porch because the chimney wasn't open until midnight. So Todd is running/walking/balancing this huge tree/presents down a LONG driveway and gets to the front door, when all the sudden their automated lights went on! Todd set down the tree and presents, put the card on the tree and BOOKED it back to the car faster than I've ever seen anyone run before! He was barely in the car when I slammed on the gas, making sure we weren't caught! It was one of my favorite memories because we knew we made a difference in that family's holiday, and we all banded in to do it together.
Several months later, a mysterious letter showed up at the store, thanking the "Page's elves" for making their children's holiday so special. I still have the letter and bring it out every year to remind myself of the true meaning of the holiday.
And as I was chuckling to myself remembering Todd sprinting up the driveway, scared to be caught, I figured maybe I would share that memory with you, too :)
Tis the season!
*there is a local women's group who writes back to all the letters as long as there is a return address.