It was the middle of December on a Saturday, and after advertising Santa would be visiting the department store, a line of mothers, fathers and children of many ages arrived to go through the typical 'What I want for Christmas' that children have been doing since time immemorial.
By looking down the line you could see the excitable pre-teens, their condescending older brothers and sisters and whichever parent was taking the time to be in charge.
Many bets were lost and there would be as many wives as husbands mowing the lawn the next week. The older kids wanted to see how real 'this Santa' looked compared to their best impressions of the perfect Santa.
Through a glass door, came a jolly old Santa, clearly needing no extra padding, with a few little persons dressed as elves with each of them carrying a sack of goodies for the boys and girls.
With a great deal of clamoring for position, the kids got excited even more. After the pomp and circumstance was over, he sat down and asked for the first of the children.
A little girl, with black hair in pigtails walked carefully walked over to him. He picked her up and put her on his lap.
"What do you want for Christmas?" he asked through his real moustache and beard.
"I would like a nice pink dress and a Barbie Doll please?"
He reached to the nearest elf, gave her a candy cane and said, "Be a good girl all of time and I suspect you may get what you want."
She gave him a smile and he got her down off his lap, and this was the cycle that went on for the next three hours. He made a motion to an elf that sought out an employee, and an announcement was made.
"Santa needs a little break, he will be back in 20 minutes."
As the Santa got up grumbling, but smiling, a young man walked through the door. He looked in his early 30s, wearing a light denim shirt, blue jeans with a nice belt and a soft hat that covered his shoulder length soft brown hair. He had on a backpack and was clean-shaven. He had piercing blue eyes and a confidence in his step that belied his youthful appearance. His boots looked worn, but contemporary.
A store employee stopped him.
After taking off his hat and running his hand through his hair a couple of times, he said, "I have been walking for some time. I only wish to sit and rest my weary legs. Let me have 15 minutes please, then I'll be on my way."
"All right," the employee said showing him a place to sit away from the Santa area.
Santa came out looking better then he had. He got up on his raised platform and started talking to the little ones again.
As his little sister moved forward in the line to see the man in red and white, fifteen-year-old Donald Jackson broke from his little sister and mother and went over to sit by this boot wearing person.
"Do I know you?" Donald asked
The stranger put out his hand and said, "My name is John."
"I'm Daniel, I'm fifteen years old and that's my four year old sister over there, here name is Emily, but insists on being called Emma."
"What do you like to called Donald?"
"Oh, Don or Donald, I don't like Donnie."
"Then I won't call you that."
"Thanks John. What do you do ... I mean for a living?"
"Whatever it takes to move from place to place. I know how to do many things, but right now I'm sitting and talking to my friend Donald. Is something bothering you son?"
"What do you mean?"
"You have a look of sorrow on your face. Has something happened?"
This remark disturbed Donald, who thought he was better at not showing the pain he felt from the desertion of his father so many years before.
Donald explained how one day, his father just left his keys to the house and car on the kitchen table leaving him in charge of his sister and mother.
He even broke into some quiet tears.
John put his hand on Donald's head and said, "You seem to be growing up well, despite such a tragedy."
"Thank you John, I haven't talked about this to many people. They all told me to be strong,"
"That's all some people know how to say Donald. Are there any projects around your home that could use a strong back such as mine?"
"Oh, yeah ... all kinds of things. You look hungry John. How long since you've eaten," Donald said to this man he felt so comfortable speaking to.
"I could use some food, but I don't want to impose upon you."
"It wouldn't be, excuse me a minute John."
His sister was just getting off the knee of Santa Claus with her candy cane as Donald took her by hand and their mother followed.
John immediately stood and introduced himself as Emma looked up at this tall peaceful man. He picked her up and she said, "You are tall."
"You are pretty!" John said which made her giggle.
Mom looked him over over, wondering exactly who this almost pretty gentleman was. The last time someone stood up for her was too far back to remember.
"John," she said, "I need to do some shopping while I'm here. Would that be all right with you?"
"Please, do whatever you need, Don, Emma and I can follow along and look at all the pretty and shiny toys."
"I don't want to presume anything," Kathleen said with a smile appearing on her face for the first time in some time.
By the time things were done, Emma was sound asleep on John's broad shoulders while Don was standing by his mom paying for her purchases. Kathleen walked to them and took her and put her in the car seat.
"Donald tells me that you are hungry. I know we just met, but you seem like an honest man. Would you like a home-cooked meal?"
"That would be lovely, Kathleen. I don't want to be too much trouble."
John and Donald put the wrapped presents in the back of the car, and then he went around and opened the car door for her. A slight 'Thank you' could be heard from her lips and they went to their home.
John took his hat and put it on Don saying, it looks pretty good on you. That put a big smile on the young man's face as they all headed to their manor.
He also caught Kathleen looking at him in the rear view mirror. She giggled and drove the fifteen minutes home.