Santa’s Beard

Santa

The Warmth of My Santa’s Beard

An original Christmas short story written by Lance Vaughn

Listen to the story, as read by the author
with custom music by Brian Hazard of Color Theory

 

The true meaning of Christmas — it’s not just sharing gifts around a beautiful tree. And, for some, it isn’t necessarily the celebration of the birth of Christ. It’s something much less apparent, much more personal. Christmas is hidden deep inside each one of us, just waiting to be discovered.

* * * * *

It had been just over a year since I had finally completed my first novel. I had spent every penny I could on the preparation and mailing of my story to over forty editors. But I should have heard something months ago. If only I had had enough money to hire an experienced agent with connections and some real credibility. My chances of getting published would have increased tenfold.

I guess that was the beginning of all my problems. I was keeping the roof over my head by freelance writing for the local paper. Now, remember, I said I was keeping the roof over my head. I didn’t say anything about eating — I could have advertised my kitchen cabinets as rental storage space!

So, needless to say, when Christmas rolled around, I was bummed. For the first time in my life, I had no spirit. It’s strange not to have any spirit. It’s like it’s December everywhere, but July in your heart. The snow was just snow, and the cold was just cold. The child in me had been spanked and sent to his room.

I don’t remember what I was working on when the knock on my door came, but I know I was working… the only wise thing to do when you’re two months behind on rent.

I got up from my computer after saving my file, opened the door and thought about what I saw for a moment: Santa. No, not Santa. Some nasty bum with a Santa suit. Santa doesn’t exist and never will — at least that’s what I believed that year. Even if he did, Mrs. Claus never would have sent him out looking like that!

“What do you want?” I forced.

“HoHoHo. I’m poor.”

I must have stared at him for at least five long seconds before I replied, “And…”

“HoHoHo. It’s Christmas. I’m poor.”

“HoHoHo,” I yelled, “SO AM I!”

I didn’t mean to slam the door as hard as I did, but the wind gave me an assist. I probably scared the beard right off the poor man, but I didn’t care at the time. I really didn’t. Christmas had no place with me this year.

It must have been the fierceness of the bum’s face through his fake white beard that threw me. His mustache was below his mouth; his right sideburn rubbing up against his nose with his left behind his ear. All I know is it threw me, and it threw me hard.

Why was I being such a Scrooge this year? I never would have acted like that last year! True, but last year I had written one of the best articles the local paper had ever seen. And the year before that I had received the Top Writer of the Year award. I must have lived a full year on that bonus alone. I was living in luxury. Writing because I wanted to, not because I had to. I was writing with a full stomach, and I was with my family on Christmas.

I miss them. Mom and Dad. My brother and his new family. Everyone. They had given me so much power. I could have written anything back then. But that power had died. I hadn’t seen my family since last Christmas, and my finances had run dry. No money equals no plane ticket, no family, no power. Nothing. And, I’m sure you know what happens to a freelance writer when he has no power, no belief in himself… no words.

I walked back over and sat down in front of my computer. My lifeless computer. I wish it could tell me a joke, make me smile.

I wouldn’t be so damned depressed if I knew that someone cared, but no one’s called me for so long. Not even my family! How depressing! It’s Christmas Eve and my family hasn’t even called to see if I’ll be coming home.

I got up a little harder than usual and my chair found its way to the hard wood floor. I went to my bedroom and laid down on my bed. My phone was staring at me while I thought about what I was going to say. Everyone would be there by now — my grandmother’s new house. Everyone would be visiting and laughing at my uncle’s jokes. Everyone but me.

I guess I could pretend to be doing fine. I could tell them I was just too busy to come home for Christmas. Too busy. Yes, that’s what I’ll be.

I picked up the phone.

Nothing. No dial tone. No service.

The phone was suddenly flying across my room, and my mouth suddenly deserved something far worse than soap.

“Damn!” I sent them money! I sent them my very last forty dollars and they disconnected me anyway!

My anger was magnified by the fact that my phone had been disconnected three times already, and (for anyone too fortunate to know) every time you get disconnected, the phone company wants another hundred or more dollars to add to your deposit. I didn’t have another hundred dollars!

I punched my bed and laid there for several minutes. How long had my phone been disconnected? What if my family had tried to call? Or an editor!

I searched my apartment and found enough change to cover a long distance phone call on a pay phone. I couldn’t call them collect. After all, I was a successful writer, right?

I gathered together some warm clothes, bundled up, and set out for my adventure through the snow. The grocery store down the street had a pay phone just outside the main entrance — I always wondered why they didn’t put the stupid thing inside where it was warm, but there was little I could do about it now.

The phone must have rang twenty times before I realized no one was going to answer. I called a second time and let it ring even longer. Twenty one. Twenty two. Twenty three. Where are they?

I wandered around the store for about fifteen minutes and tried again unsuccessfully. There I was sweating my ass off inside a grocery store, all bundled up against the cold… starving… playing with an assortment of change in my pocket… wondering where my family was… wondering who I was… and trying to forget how much I felt alone. So damned alone.

From the grocery store window I peered through the worsening blizzard outside. I watched crazy carolers caroling, pipers piping, and drummers drumming. I watched the old Santa-bum slowly stumble from my apartment complex to the smaller one across the street. Poor guy. How much different was I from him? How long would it be before I was walking from door to door saying, “It’s Christmas. I’m poor?”

I called again and again before I gave up. My journey home was colder than any walk I had ever taken. The wind blew straight through me, freezing my heart, killing it. I walked past a few restaurants and began crossing a small outdoor shopping center when the television sets caught my eye — a dozen of them set up in a department store display. Every one was set on the same channel and some old black and white Christmas movie was playing. I couldn’t help but watch.

A large crowd of people were whispering and shushing one another just outside the door of a small house. A young girl — couldn’t have been older than two — knocked softly on the door. A few seconds later, the door opened and everyone yelled “Merry Christmas” and began singing “Joy to the World”, the quintessential Christmas Carol.

The man that had opened the door was smiling larger than I thought possible for his face. “Oh, my God!” he said in disbelief and began hugging and kissing his family. “My God, thank you!” he kept repeating. “Mom, Dad, everyone! Thank you! Thank you so much!”

“Doubt it,” I said shaking my head. And then I stopped. I stopped dead in my tracks and realized what was happening to me! My family wasn’t at Grandmother’s because… because they were coming here to see me! Could it possibly be?

I was off and running before I could re-think it, before I even tried to re-think it. I burst into my apartment and looked around. It was messier than I had realized. I had to clean it up, and fast!

Within thirty minutes the place looked fairly respectable, and I was rummaging through some boxes looking for my old Mickey Mouse stocking to hang on my front door. Perhaps a few candles to make the place a little more homey. I used to have a tape of Christmas music — where would that be?

I kept looking at my watch and listening for the door. It was getting late. I had done just about as much as I could do to straighten the place up, and it was nearly 10:00pm.

After another long hour of waiting, I once again grabbed my myriad of winterwear and headed for the grocery. This time there was no Santa to be seen, and this time the wind bounced right off of me.

I dialed the number and put in the one dollar and sixty-five cents for the first minute. When my mother answered, I froze in disbelief and slammed down the phone.

Clinkclinkclink. The phone ate my change.

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. An emotional knife entered at the top of my skull and slowly, painfully worked its way through my body. I closed my eyes, a tear forming at each.

I can’t remember walking home. I just remember getting there and facing Mickey Mouse hanging on my front door. His happy eyes and big ears torn from my childhood. His smile larger than life. I could hear him laughing at me. If it hadn’t been so cold, Mickey and I would have gone for a little walk, and only one of us would have come back. But, it was cold, and I was tired. Thank God. An ending to the worse Christmas… an ending to… everything… I ever was.

If I hadn’t fallen asleep, I probably wouldn’t have reacted the way I did when that crazy sound came from my living room. My dreams had been happy, but they were a demented sort of happy. Like the way you would imagine a prisoner who had killed his entire family would dream of his wife and children. Laughing, with echoes.

But, I had not killed my family and it was these very dreams that made me realize how much I missed them, how much I belonged there at Grandmother’s with hot chocolate and toast; with the Christmas Story and Nativity scene; and, with my family who I loved very much.

Like an ocean wave had crashed into my house, the sound yanked me from my dreams. I was up and out of my bed before I knew I was awake. I could see from where I stood in my bedroom a pile of white paper strewn across my hall floor near the shelf in the front entryway. I walked clear down the hall before I could decipher that the pile of paper was all of my mail. The stack of mail that I had been gathering and ignoring for the last few months had suddenly come crashing down.

And, what’s that? A certified letter sat perfectly on top of the pile with it’s big red certified stamp. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it! The official-looking envelope drew me in and my pulse began to race. Oh my god, how stupid could I be — ignoring my mail for so long? I guess I had just given up altogether and didn’t even realize it. What if that letter is… I grabbed it and ripped it open. Oh my god, it is! A letter from an editor, and he wants to publish my book! Yes!! And, with the letter was sent a $2500 advance! Oh, Merry Christmas!!

Before I knew it, I was jumping around my apartment, screaming with joy and running outside in the freezing cold and yelling some more. I ran down to the grocery store and demanded that they cash my check. I must have scared that new manager half to death. He finally agreed to give me $1000 cash and a note that said he would give me the rest when the check cleared. I’m not sure if he did it because he knew that I was a writer and that a check from Balsam Books meant good news, or if he just did it because it was Christmas Eve. I didn’t care. I just cared about the money, because for me, money meant that Christmas was finally here! I was crazed!

I ran out of the grocery and down the street. “Santa,” I was yelling, “Santa!”

I nearly tripped over him in the third complex I ran through. The Santa-bum was walking back into the main street as though he had heard me calling. I grabbed his hand and told him to follow me back to my place. He tried running with me, but he kept stumbling. At first I thought he was crippled, but then I realized how cold my feet were… his must have been numb!

Once we were inside my apartment, I invited him to sit down and fixed a big pot of coffee for him — one of the few things I had left that could be considered a grocery item.

It was a little after midnight. I didn’t have much time!

Santa kept mumbling to me while I ran around my apartment preparing for my trip to Grandmother’s. It didn’t take more than five minutes to round up all my stuff and throw it in a bag. I handed the bum a cup of coffee and within a few minutes he looked a little warmer and his speech became a little clearer.

“The Spirit of Christmas thanks you,” he said.

It didn’t matter much. All that mattered was that I finally had money, and I could finally see my family. I helped out Santa because I could, not necessarily because I wanted to.

“What’s your name, Santa?” I asked.

“You’re a writer, aren’t you?” His voice was rough, and I was surprised by the sincerity of his tone.

“Yeh. What’s your name?”

“Hard work.”

“Yes it is. What’s your name?”

“Ben,” he said, and then mumbled some more in a low whisper. I leaned in closer to hear, but his breath stank and I was in too much of a hurry.

“Well, Ben, I’ve got some warm clothes here. Why don’t you try some on?” I tossed my collection of old winter clothes on the table in front of him.

He stared at the clothes for a while, sitting motionless. I had no idea what he could be considering, but I was in too much of a hurry to find out.

I went into my bedroom and put on my suit. I was going to have to make up some story about my phone, and why I was showing up in the middle of the morning… Christmas morning. Maybe I would think of it on the plane. I started singing, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. It didn’t take me long, though, before I was humming.

When I went back into the living room, Santa was still sitting there motionless. Then, when he looked up at me, his eyes flared and his mouth turned into a huge smile.

“Merry Christmas,” he said excitedly. “How did you know?”

“How did I know what?”

He got up and walked over to me, his eyes examining the material of my suit.

“It’s very nice,” he said as he began stripping off his Santa costume.

“You don’t think I’m going to give you my only suit do you? You’ll freeze to death out there in this.” I walked over to the table and picked up the winter clothes. “Here,” I said and threw them in his direction.

The nude Santa let them fall to the floor. He walked closer and held out his costume as though he was offering it to me.

“You can be Santa,” he whispered softly, like it was a big secret. “Santa makes people smile, makes them happy.”

And Santa did. I smiled. I loved his idea (although I’m still not sure if he knew what he was saying). “Hmmmm. Okay,” I said and took off my suit… my only suit.

In a few minutes, I was Santa. I placed the beard on my face and looked at the man standing before me in my suit. He looked pretty good. He was still mumbling, but he looked a lot happier. I was happy too to discover that his Santa suit wasn’t nearly as dirty as I had imagined it to be.

I filled up a thermos with the rest of the coffee and handed it to him, along with an old winter coat that I hadn’t worn in years. I put fifty dollars in his coat pocket and bid him farewell. He was gone in a snap, too! He didn’t even wish me a Merry Christmas! He kept mumbling “I have just the present. I have just the present.” I told him to spend the money on some food and a warm place to stay, but he wouldn’t listen. The crazy fool. He would die before New Year’s Eve if he didn’t find a warm place to stay…

Once again I started singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as I ran down the street with my bag and caught a taxi to the airport. I bought a ticket for the next available flight to Indiana. I had one hour before my plane was to depart.

I threw my bag and coat down and ran to the gift shop. I filled my Santa’s bag with over $400 worth of sweatshirts, stuffed animals, and other things that no one needed. In what seemed like three and a half seconds, I had shopped for everyone and boarded the plane for Grandmother’s house.

Boy, were they surprised to see me!

I arrived just before five in the morning, and everyone was still asleep. I wandered quietly through the house, tiptoeing with care, in search of Grandfather’s Christmas Morning Bells. I found them and quietly lifted them off their hook. And, then…

I ran! Jinglejinglejingle HoHoHo! Merry Christmas! jinglejingle HOHOHOHO! I felt like Santa himself and it seemed as though Grandfather was smiling down on me from heaven.

It felt so good to see everyone. Their beautiful morning faces, their warm hugs. My grandmother had put up so many lights I thought her living room was stuck in warp drive. There were bells and strands of garland everywhere. Stockings and mistletoe. The smell of the Christmas Tree. The smell of love.

We hadn’t had such an early Christmas morning for years, and we all felt like children again. My father was running around with my Santa’s beard and hat on, holding Mistletoe over his head and kissing every smiling face in his merry path. Grandmother put on some old Christmas albums and started making hot chocolate, while the rest of us began huddling around the Christmas tree.

I told everyone about my book finally getting published, and they quickly congratulated me. I shouldn’t have turned the topic of conversation over to me, though, because a shower of questions suddenly began. It had been so long so we’d talked.

I couldn’t get myself to tell them some story about why my phone was dead, and why I was late. It just wasn’t right. My brother asked me first, and I gave him a short, vague reply. But, then, when everyone was finally settling around the tree, my mother asked me. She knew something was wrong, and she knew just how to ask.

So, I told them.

“I… haven’t been doing so well.” All of my feelings were suddenly being pushed out as though some invisible force was at work deep inside of me. Some part of me had been hiding, fooling myself into believing that I was doing okay. I wasn’t. I hated my life, and I hated being so far away from my family. It had been so long since I had seen everyone, I had forgotten how beautiful they were. I had forgotten how much I really loved them.

My words were shaky, and my eyes flooding. I was crying in front of my family and feeling more and more human with every second. My mother appeared at my side to comfort me, making the tears flow even more freely.

I was ashamed. Ashamed of being so distant — letting them believe I was doing fine when I was nearly on the streets.

Everyone was around me suddenly, and I felt more loved than I ever had. I worked out a smile and said that I was sorry. It was okay, though. Everything was okay now.

I got up and went over to my Santa’s bag. I half-laughed when I looked in at all the stuffed animals and sweatshirts.

“I want everyone to know that I have finally realized what Christmas is all about.” Just the thought of everything I had gone through that night began pulling out more tears. Tears and laughs. I was smiling and looking across the room at my family… everyone that I loved. Deep in their eyes was the spirit of Christmas — the spirit of family and love.

“I, um…” I cleared my throat and then laughed at myself again. “I… went into a bit of a buying frenzy at the airport gift shop at two o’clock this morning. I didn’t want to show up here without gifts. I didn’t want to receive… and not give.”

I looked at my mother who was smiling at me with tears in her eyes. I looked at my father sitting beside her, comforting her.

“Christmas is about being with the ones that you love… and I love every one of you very much.”

“Now,” I said, my voice finally stabilizing a bit. “Santa is here, and he’s got some gifts. They may not be what you asked for, but they’ve got Christmas spirit written all over them!”

* * * * *

The policeman sat down at his desk and I handed him the reports I had just filled out. He quickly read them and filed them in a drawer.

“So you traded your suit for his Santa outfit?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. I brought him inside my home for awhile cuz he was about to freeze to death. I was on my way to see my family, and I put on my suit while he drank a cup of hot coffee. When he saw me in my suit, he took off his Santa outfit and stood there nude until I traded with him. I tried to give him warm clothes, but he wanted my suit!”

The policeman continued staring at me, waiting for more.

“I gave him a winter coat… Is he okay?”

“No, he’s not. A patrolman found him frozen to death on your doorstep. He had the winter coat you gave him wrapped around a bunch of papers.”

“Papers?”

The policeman sat back in his chair and nodded. “Mmm hmm. I guess the man had a bunch of stories he was keeping in a safety deposit box at the bank down the street. He had built up quite a little charge, too — we’re still looking into the details. The bank attendant said he came in the day after Christmas in your suit with fifty dollars in his hand. The attendant said she just couldn’t tell him ‘no’ and paid for the rest out of her own pocket. Said he had been in several times before, and he just seemed so determined this time. And with it being Christmas and all…”

“My god,” I whispered. “He was a writer?” The policeman didn’t hear me and stood, retrieved my suit and coat, and handed them to me.

“It’s a good thing you had some business cards in your suit jacket or you’d never have gotten it back.” And then, as if it made no difference: “Oh, do you want his stories?”

“Stories?” Is that all this man cared about? The facts? Name: Ben; Possessions: suit, coat, stack of papers. What a depressing Scrooge!

“Uh, yeh, sure.” I said.

He picked up the stories from his desk.

“This is the strangest occurrence we’ve had this Christmas”, he announced. “Are you sure you’ve never met this man before the night of the 24th?”

“Yes, sir. I’m positive.”

He placed the stories in my hand, and I worked my way out of the police station. The cold wind danced before me, and I watched a young couple across the street as they waved goodbye to their Holiday guests.

The meaning of Christmas. It is indeed family. But it’s also sharing. Reaching out and helping those in need. Sharing with them the love and strength of family. There must be so many people out there in this world like Ben: poor, alone. People just like us, just brought into this world in much less fortunate circumstances.

Ben had tried to give me his stories, and I was at Grandmother’s house drinking hot chocolate, cuddling up to a warm fire, singing Christmas carols with my family and doing everything I could to forget about how cold it was outside; about how cold the world could be…

I wrapped my scarf around my bare neck and walked down the deserted street to my apartment. When I arrived, the place was dark and cold. The electricity had been shut off and there was no running water. Nothing but me, a roof over my head, and Ben’s stories. Well, that was the way it was going to have to be for now.

I took off my scarf and warm winter coat and walked out to my front door step. It must have been five degrees out, but I didn’t care.

I sat down with Ben’s stories and began to read. I was going to read every one of them, too, before I went back inside, away from the winter’s chilling breath — just the way Ben probably tried to do before he fell asleep the very last time.

The story on top of the stack was entitled “The Warmth of My Santa’s Beard”, and I knew exactly what he meant. The world was a beautiful place when seen from behind the beard of Santa. Everyone smiling, laughing, loving. Everyone was happy, and Christmas spirit was everywhere.

I began reading Ben’s stories, and with the harsh winter wind blowing in my face, I began feeling very, very warm.

THE END

Written in 1991. Revised in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001.
Audio version produced in 2001.
© Copyright, Lance Vaughn. All Rights Reserved.

… if you enjoyed my Christmas short story, please check out my Christmas carol

… for more information about this short story, read this blog entry

… this story was published online here

Responses

  1. I just happen to “Stumbleupon” your page about the spice rack you made. I liked it and realized it was actually a page from your blog. I looked through your blog and found this wonderful story! It brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat. I’m having a lot of problems right now and I totally understand how it is to be alone and very low on money and feel so down. Your story helped me through a little more. Thanks for that. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to keep checking your site/blog as time goes on. I can always use a story or song to lift me up.

  2. I came upon this story thinking, yeah here we go, another flowery testimony on “how if you believe, everything will be good”. Once I got to the last word of this story, I was showered by a sense of humility and realization. I’ve been so self absorbed by worrying about what’s going on outside, not realizing the importance of listening to what’s going on inside. Thank you

  3. christmas word search…

  4. […] Read the original Christmas short story and listen to the audio version here: The Warmth of My Santa’s Beard.” […]


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