“It’s been a hard year, kids,” said Sylvester as he helped Johnny on with his jacket. “There just isn’t any money for presents.” Sylvester didn’t want to admit he only knew tomorrow was Christmas because they’d said so on the Agricultural Report he listened to every morning on the radio. Now, he didn’t have time to get the kids any presents.
“That’s okay, Grandpa,” said Johnny pulling on his cap. “Santa will find us. He’ll bring us something.”
“Your parents didn’t tell you that Santa isn’t . . .”
“Isn’t what, Grandpa?” asked Ellie as she buttoned her coat. Her eyes were big and blue just like her Mama’s had been.
“Never mind. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Come on, Larry.”
Larry wagged his tail as he went outside with the twins and Sylvester did the chores. When he went into the barn for some feed, Sylvester remembered that day last September, as he always did in the barn. He’d just learned that his son and daughter-in-law had died in a car accident. Sylvester had come here—to his refuge—and had sat on a bale of hay, wondering why he was alive and they weren’t. Larry had come in, resting his chin on Sylvester’s thigh. The old man had draped his arms around the dog’s neck, sobbing into the fur.
Now he was responsible for two grandchildren, and couldn’t even remember it was Christmas. Those kids deserved better than a crusty old hermit with a bad knee.
That night, Sylvester clicked the TV off early and shooed the kids up to bed.
“Will we have a tree next year, Grandpa?” asked Ellie. She handed Sylvester the hot water bottle that had warmed the bed.
“Can I decorate it with you?”
“Sure.” He patted her on the head and left the room. They deserve better, he thought.
The next morning, Sylvester kept glancing up at the clock as he made pancakes. He could barely contain himself. I wish they’d get down here, he thought. Finally, the children raced into the room.
“What’s that?” said Johnny, pointing at a pine tree decorated in dusty Christmas bulbs.
“Don’t you know a Christmas tree when you see one?” said Sylvester.
“What are these?” said Ellie crouching next to two brown paper bags under the tree.
“Was he here?” said Johnny.
“Who?” asked Sylvester, suppressing a smile.
“Santa!” Johnny stamped his foot.
Chuckling, Sylvester slid the pancakes from the pan onto an enormous stack and carried it to the table. “Sit down and I’ll tell you.”
As the children climbed into their chairs, Sylvester filled their plates.
“Last night,” he said, “I heard a noise downstairs, so I got up to investigate. I found a man with a big red sack standing in front of the fireplace. I thought he was a burglar.”
“Grandpa, it was Santa!” Ellie’s eyes grew even bigger than usual.
“Well, I rushed to grab him, but I don’t move too fast any more. He pulled a few things out, and dropped them on the floor. Then he stepped into the fireplace. I thought that was very strange. It was a good thing the fire was out. Soon, I heard pounding on the roof. I got to the window just in time to see a sleigh and a string of reindeer flying off in the direction of the Davis place.”
“Really?” Johnny’s mouth was wide open.
“Yup.” Sylvester tossed a cool pancake to Larry who caught it midair. “Of course Larry slept through the whole thing.”
“Santa was here.” Ellie clapped her hands.
“I put the things he left behind in these grocery bags in case you wanted to keep them.” Sylvester’s eyes glistened as he handed a brown paper sack to each child.
Johnny tore his bag open and pulled out a worn yellow dump truck. Ellie took out a teddy bear with button eyes and gave it a big hug.
Sylvester beamed. “I think Santa left you some old-fashioned toys like the ones your daddy used to play with when he was a little boy.”
“Daddy had toys like these?” said Johnny.
“Sure did. Played with them all the time. Now eat your breakfast before it gets cold. We still got to take care of the animals ‘cause they don’t know it’s Christmas.” Sylvester hadn’t felt so happy in a long time.
Grinning, Johnny took a bite of pancake. As he chewed, he poked Ellie in the side.
“Cut it out,” she said, squirming away.
“I told you he’d find us.”