It was an exceptionally busy year that Christmas. Most young families experience a hectic month of December, especially if they have a toddler, a baby and holiday visitors. We were no exception, and having a last-minute list to fill, we talked about taking a quick trek one early Christmas Eve afternoon to the grocery store, for much needed staples.
Normally, doing so would be just that – a quick trip – but we lived high on a hill overlooking a large lake. Because of hazardous driving conditions in snow and ice this time of the year, winter trips were monitored carefully. We listened to the news regarding snow activity, and snow was not predicted that evening – but possibly on Christmas morning. My cousin was willing to go for a ride, and we bundled up the toddler and the baby and brought them with us.
At the store, we shopped, ooh-ed and aah-ed at Christmas displays, and were more than startled upon leaving the store to see heavy snowflakes coming down. The parking lot was already covered. We quickly brushed off our small car and loaded it with our groceries & packages. We then slowly slipped and slid the 4 miles to the bottom of our large hill of a street.
There were no other cars on the roads and as we approached the bottom of our hill, we could not see the top of it for the powdering of snow coming down like confectioner’s sugar coating everything. I cuddled my baby daughter close to me and my son, the toddler, was excited at seeing the snow. After all, he knew Santa was coming later that evening.
After three attempts to put the car in gear and make it up the hill, we could only go up about a quarter of the way, and then we would slip backwards, sliding side to side. I was starting to get somewhat alarmed and taking my cue, the baby started to cry; it was also near the time for her feeding. Although grateful that I had taken a bottle with me for her, my thoughts were on the groceries in the car and how in the world would we get them home? Even more worrisome – how could we try to walk up this long, slippery hill with two small children? (There were no cell phones back then.)
After about 20 minutes, when I began worrying if we would run out of gas trying to keep the car warm, we heard a chugging sound… and an old large, black sedan with chains on the tires was coming up the hill. The car stopped (which amazed me that it could do that on this slippery hill) and a tall, large man with white hair and white beard (I kid you not) got out of the car. He had on a navy wool knitted hat, a plaid heavy flannel shirt, black knee-length boots and suspendered pants. I couldn’t believe that I could even think the thoughts I was thinking in our worrisome predicament. He offered that he, the ‘stranger’, would take my daughter and me up the hill to our house and then go back for the rest and the car. I did think it was strange, too, that we knew almost everyone in this lake community, but had never seen a white haired, white bearded man. I put aside any thoughts of anyone abducting us in this weather and reluctantly went with him. I didn’t feel I had a choice.
We easily made it up the hill to our house. Our house was 40 steps up from the street and the stairs were completely covered with snow. The stranger carried my daughter with one hand and helped me up with the other up all those stairs – I had no boots on. Once we got inside the warm house, I watched the stranger from our front bay window go down the steps, disappearing in swirls of snow and drifts. It seemed and looked surreal to me.
Some time later, I heard the two cars chugging; the stranger had put chains on our car, too. They parked the cars, and my cousin and the stranger carried up all the groceries and one little boy.
We talked for a few minutes, thanked him and shook hands – the stranger refused any nourishment or a drink. As he left, I stood at the bay window with my almost three year old son in my arms watching the bearded stranger walk down the steps with the spotlights on him amidst large pellets of snow tumbling down around him. As if the man was aware we were watching him, he turned around and waved, and then I laughed and said, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.’ And to my son, I asked, “Do you know who that man is?” And without missing a beat, my toddler said, “That’s Santa Claus”. And I nodded, and said, “Yup, that’s who he is.”
Marie Coppola – A True Story – December 2017