East Gwillimbury BULLETIN Magazine December 2020
As a writer, I am always looking for quiet and inspiration in my surroundings. On Halloween weekend, I had a chance to park myself on the shores of Golden Lake in the Madawaska Valley at a cottage for some renewal, relaxation and writing. It was wonderful. The weather was bright, the lake danced and the air was sharp enough to energize me. I slept, ate, spent hours tinkering with ideas and words and went for long frigid walks.
It was perfect.
Early one morning, I was walking when I heard some noise. At one of the cottages an older gentleman was working to pull a dock up above the high waterline, winterizing a cozy cottage.
As I watched him work, I realized he looked familiar, I mean really familiar. I started to drift across the lawn, under the trees and toward the beach to get a closer look. I think it was the red hat that tipped me off. This fellow looked an awful lot like, I mean it had to be… “Santa?” I asked.
He jumped, startled. I felt bad, I should have given him some warning, he had been concentrating so hard he didn’t hear me walk up. His eyes shifted, taking me in, looking around to see if I was alone. “Who wants to know?”
“I’m so sorry, I just thought, I mean –”
He took pity on me and his face broke into a grin. “Caught me, I’m just closing up the cottage. I don’t usually get recognized here.”
I seriously doubted that, I mean the hat was a dead give away. “I thought you’d be in your workshop at this time of year.”
He sighed. “Yes Mrs. Claus has been trying to get me in there but this is a different year and these things don’t do themselves.” He waved his hand at the dock and piles of leaves gently tucked into the few gardens. “We’re well into the Christmas rush and sometimes it’s just good to get away.
It was then I noticed two reindeer grazing in the yard and a wheeled buggy near by.
“You don’t expect me to use the sled at this time of year do you? Although over Thunder Bay we went through some heavy storms.”
I felt a bit guilty taking up his ‘leisure’ time so I started on my way, trying not to get too fan girl on him. “I really like your work.” Oh wow, I sounded lame, “And thanks for that book last year. It was perfect.”
If there had been any doubt, I knew he was the real deal when he said, “I knew you loved Ursula Le Guin.”
He knew me. I had been on his list and he’d checked it twice. I had a shiver of thrill and started to walk away as he turned back to his work. As I left, I realized my kids would kill me if I left it at that. I walked back. “Mr. Claus,” I started…
He looked and me and smiled saying, “Why don’t we get some hot chocolate and have a chat? Wait here.”
It was chilly in the breeze but I waited until he came back with two steaming cups of cocoa. We walked over to two Muskoka chairs that hadn’t yet been put away. He pulled one carefully out to about 6 feet away from the other and indicated I should sit.
“I’d invite you in,” he said, “but then we’d have to wear masks; they are really tough with my beard,” he chuckled. “Mrs. Claus fashioned something that works but it looks like an old sock hanging off my face. It’s embarrassing.” He wiped his brow.
The chocolate burned my lips and throat but was sweet and rich, warming me all the way down to my toes.
“Now what do you need to know?”
I explained about my article and asked if he would mind if I quoted him. He didn’t bat an eye so I asked the question that has been on my mind. “How will COVID affect Christmas this year? Are you able to get to the workshop? Will there be visits to the little ones?”
“Wait a minute.” He raised his hand.
”That’s a lot of questions.” He leaned back and started to talk. Apparently there have been no cases of COVID-19 in the bustling workshops at the North Pole. “That,” he explained with a wink, “Is because no one knows how to find us. But they are vigilant. The master builder elves have added a new ventilation system to the workshop and workstations are at least 2 reindeer apart and surrounded by plexiglass. That way everyone can see each other while they work and they can still sing. “The whole thing would have been game over if we couldn’t set that up. Elves love to sing while they work.
“They divided up the chores so that one group of elves works Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the other Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, that way no one was laid off, keeping their distance is easy, and there’s lots of space. “It’s going surprisingly well,” he told me, “lots of singing and high productivity.”
“So Christmas is coming. That’s a relief.”
He told me the reindeer are training for the big day as usual so all is ready. “But what about the visit?”
Santa told me Mrs. Claus has been busy making him several masks that will fit over his beard.
She has also laundered a bunch of white gloves for him to wear that evening.
She suggested he not wear the red suit, it will just be too hard to wipe down for germs but he is having his medical health officer design something that will be suitable for travel to different places safely.
He rubbed a finger along side of his nose. “We are doing some things different though. This year we are outsourcing some of our gifts to local businesses so we have fewer gifts traveling throughout the hot zones of the world. I’m having lots of fun discovering hidden treasures in little shops the world over.”
“How will that work?” I dipped a cookie into my hot chocolate.
“I’ve got the list. I know for instance that you are getting a book. I arrange for your local bookstore to get that book to you instead of bringing it all the way from the north pole. Everyone is happy.”
Of course, the naughty/nice list is still very much in use but some presents will be dropped at businesses, stores and restaurants within your community. There will be people who can’t get out, so for them Santa will be coming down the chimney. He will be very careful with his in-house visits, taking extra time to sanitize behind him as he leaves.
“This isn’t our first pandemic,” he told me in a serious voice, “We learned a thing or two during the last two.” He nibbled his last cookie thoughtfully. “There is so much worry and anxiety in the world right now. People are getting sick and jobs and finances are uncertain. We just want to do our part to help and bring joy. It’s what makes Christmas special.”
Hot cocoa finished, he started to look restless and I realized I’d overstayed my welcome. I stood and thanked him, then turned to leave when I remembered my original question. “You’ve got a cottage here?”
He laughed his characteristic ho ho ho. “I love the north,” he said, “but we work hard in the winter, it is so nice to go fishing on a long summer evening.” He looked wistfully at the boat now sitting on a trailer. “Every once in a while, I can sneak away and it’s not too far with those guys.” He waved toward the grazing reindeer then he winked and turned back to his work.
I followed the road back to my cottage and my writing but to this day, I can’t get the image of him and his wheeled summer wagon/sleigh out of my mind. I’m glad to think Christmas, although perhaps different this year, is still Santa’s number one priority.
So be good, take care of each other don’t forget to help Santa by shopping locally.
Merry Christmas from Santa and I.
Vicki Pinkerton is a writer, teacher and creative life coach who lives on a small farm just outside of Mount Albert. She is a social hermit who creates novels and stories in her dungeon office and loves to sleep in when her puppy lets her. She gets out for interviews and to teach the occasional course. She loves the stories that make us who we are and is always looking for another happy ending.