We crested the small hill in the park, headed towards the waterfall that fills a small urban lake. Suddenly, there he was! I had to look twice, but after seeing the large man with the massive white beard, I was pretty sure it was him. I was thoroughly miffed, however, that nobody ever told me Santa Claus spent his summers in Colorado.
He was standing patiently wiping off his small white dog. The canine culprit had obviously just finished rubbing himself in a pile of goose droppings. There was no anger etched upon his face as he thoroughly cleaned the dog with a handkerchief. In fact, he did not seem too agitated at all. If it had been my ninety pounds worth of hound dog that had just marked herself; I would be using a queen-sized sheet to clean her off while muttering some pretty good examples of good old foxhole cursing!
The tiny dog took notice of Xena and scampered over towards her. I assured the brave dog’s owner that my puppy girl was friendly. There was no reason for him to think that his pet was about to become dental floss! As we glanced at each other directly, I could not help a twinkle in his eyes.
“Oh, I know she’s nice!” he replied, in answer to my warning.
The words surprised me, since I was fairly certain we had never run across one another. How could he have picked up on Xena’s demeanor so quickly? She had not been wagging her tail and she had not lowered her head in deference to the other dog. For that matter, she had been startled by the oncoming dog who was a fourth her size.
The gentleman across from me politely asked about Xena’s mix of breeds. Most people give me a dumbfounded look when told they are looking at a Plott Hound and Catahoula Leopard Dog mix. Both breeds are relatively unknown outside of the deep South. Yet the older man nodded his head knowingly.
I began to scrutinize the weathered face across from me. Conversation had now moved to the names of our respective dogs and how they had come to be part of our families. He was close to my height of six-foot four inches, but easily outweighed me by some seventy-five pounds. Most of that extra size was packed around his midsection. Judging by the bright white hair and the deep wrinkles around his eyes, I would have to put him in his seventies. Then there was that beard!
In the past, I have sported facial hair that has been groomed into the envy of both males and females around me. Every single whisker has been meticulously trimmed, the edges are crisp and symmetrical, and even stubborn hairs are waxed into place. Now days, I limit myself to a moustache, but even that is immaculate. The satin white beard that he wore made my best past efforts pale by comparison.
I made a comment about his dog’s choice in perfume, and the older man started laughing heartily. “His belly jiggled like a bowl full of jelly!” The words simply formed themselves in my head. The flowing white beard, the hearty laugh, even the red sweatshirt he was wearing; it could not be! I fought the urge to make a comment about his resemblance to Santa Claus. I was sure the poor man heard it every day.
“He’s being a naughty boy today,” he finally responded after a few seconds of chuckling.
We wished each other a good day and headed off in different directions. I paused to praise my dog for her behavior. After all, a complete stranger had already known she was nice. On the other hand, his dog had been naughty. “Going to find out who’s naughty and nice.” As the words formed on my lips, a chill ran up my spine!
As children we were taught that our faith in Santa Clause was unshakeable. He watched over us to assure that we behaved and treated each other well. The man also served as a role model, unselfishly traveling the world in a night to reward our good deeds over the past year. We were all too eager to please, not wanting to let the North Pole native down. Deep in our hearts, the story seemed to be too good to be true; and yet we clung to the belief that a complete stranger cared so much about us.
It is a shame that we have to grow up and lose that wonderful innocence. Imagine a world full of adults, all on their best behavior; in the hopes that they will land themselves a coveted spot on the “nice list.” Imagine a complete stranger bestowing gifts upon you simply because you are a good person.
Exiting the park, I looked over my shoulder only to see that the old man and his dog were nowhere to be seen. Turning back around, I saw a pile of dog droppings. Even though they were not from my dog; I carefully bagged them and tossed them in a nearby trashcan. I am certain Santa Claus would approve!