I used to be an avid people watcher when I went to the mall, but once in a while, something happens, and I have a hard time pulling myself away. It’s been a while since I last experienced something like this, and it goes to show that when something seemingly small is remembered after all these years, it actually made a bit of an impact. I don’t know the little girl or her dad personally, but whoever they were, I want them to know that their deed was seen, appreciated, and remembered.
It’s been a little over four years, and it’s as if it happened just yesterday….
It was Christmas again in Knoxville, and as I was window shopping, I heard a small, squeaky voice shout, “Can we get this one, Daddy?” The voice came from a little girl of probably four or five just inside the Disney store. She was holding a Cinderella doll with both hands, heaving it over her head as if it were a trophy. Her smile hinted that she desperately wanted the boxed princess. “Please, Daddy,” she begged in her shrill voice. “Please, please, please.”
I stepped inside the store to watch the event unfold. Her father appeared tired of shopping, his shoulders slightly slumped as his arms carried more than enough bags and boxes. The pair were definitely busy all morning, shopping their little hearts out. A soft, solemn “sure, honey” and a sigh sent the little girl trotting to the register line, as the father juggled the weight in his arms to retrieve his wallet.
The pair were silent as the line of patrons slowly made their way to the counter. I continued my browsing of the shelves, as I waited for something exciting to happen with the father-daughter pair. I heard the cashier ask her question (a little too cheerfully), “Would you like us to wrap this for you?”
I turned in time to hear the little girl respond before her father. “Yes, please, with a big silver bow.” A heavy sigh and a small nod were the only confirmation from her father. Once Cinderella was wrapped and topped with a giant shiny silver bow, the little girl carefully slid the box into her arms, cradling it like a babe, as her father paid thirty-some odd dollars for the doll.
“That’s the last gift for you,” he whispered as they headed towards the exit. “Can that be my gift to you? I think Santa’s going to be bringing you more toys.”
“Can my picture with Santa be my last gift?” The little girl asked, her eyes big with wonder, and I couldn’t stop myself from following them, my curiosity overflowing. Another sigh and a nod sent the little girl skipping down towards Santa’s workshop.
I settled down on a bench near Santa’s station, as the pair stepped into yet another waiting line, where the father finally snapped. He signaled an “elf” and spoke with her for a few minutes, leaning over to the little girl and whispering something. The little girl, with a big smile on her face, nodded furiously, and I made out the word “Okay.” I watched as the father stepped out of the roped waiting line, leaving his daughter in the care of an “elf”, and sat on the bench to my left with an extremely heavy sigh.
As the line continued to inch forward, I finally broke my silence. “You’ve been busy today,” I remarked, pointing at the bags and boxes at his feet.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Her mom gets her this Christmas, so I have to do everything in one go.” I observed his eyes go weary and exhaustion is evident in the wrinkles of his brow. “I do what I can. That’s the best I can do.” He closed his eyes, and I glanced up towards his little girl, who was heading up to Santa with her wrapped princess with a big silver bow in her arms. I gave the father a side glance and found him staring at his phone, so I reverted my attention to the little girl sitting on Santa’s lap with the big silver bowed box on the floor between his feet.
There’s an unheard exchange between the little girl and Santa, and his enormous hug hinted that she just did an unselfish act of kindness that humbled Santa. I watched as an “elf” approached the jolly red-suited man and the little girl. She clapped her hands and hugged the little girl, and as I witnessed the “elf” take the wrapped doll box with a big silver bow, I heard the father next to me wake from his rest.
“What’s she doing? Why’s she taking the doll?” My eyes bounced between the little girl receiving another hug from Santa and the father, who’s trying his best to gather all his bags an boxes into his arms, rushing to get to the “elf” who carried the silver bowed box away. “What the hell? That damn doll cost me over thirty dollars!”
“There has to be a reason why,” I volunteered a weak response to his seemingly rhetorical question.
As he juggled the last few bags, his little girl walked up to him and took two boxes from his arms with a smile on her face. “I’ll help you carry these, Daddy,” she said in her squeaky little voice.
“What was that, Amanda?” Her father’s voice tried to remain calm and collected, though I heard a slight hint of anger. “Why did you let that wom… elf take your doll?” I fought back a grin as I heard him catch himself. “That was your doll for Christmas,” he stated in a groan as he sat back down on the bench, waiting for an explanation.
The little girl – Amanda – placed the two boxes she was holding on the bench next to her father, gave him a hug, and began patting his shoulder as she replied, “Santa and his elves said they’re collecting toys and clothes and stuff for the boys and girls whose mommies and daddies can’t afford to get them things. I heard them talking about it when Mommy and I went shopping here last week. They pointed to the tree over there.” She pointed to a seven-foot tree covered in paper ornaments colored by children with writing. “I saw one that said ‘doll’. I asked Mommy if we could get one, but she said she couldn’t buy a doll for another little girl. So, I thought maybe you would buy it for me, and I could give it to her.”
While she was explaining herself, I was watching the tree and saw the “elf” who took away the wrapped princess box with a giant silver bow look at a few ornaments before picking one off the tree. She looked in our direction and waved the ornament over her head with a big smile on her lips before she trotted away back towards Santa’s station. I turned my attention to the father-daughter pair and found the father wiping his eye.
“I’m sorry I lied to you, Daddy,” little Amanda pouted slightly and bowed her head. “But I didn’t want the little girl to go without a doll this Christmas.”
He dropped all the bags that were tangled in his fingers and hugged his little girl tight. “You don’t have to apologize, sweetheart,” he sniffed, and I could tell he was emotionally torn apart by his daughter’s generosity. “Next time, just tell me the truth, and I’ll do what I can.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck, and I heard a muffled “Can we do it again next year then?” from her and an “Of course, we can, and we will. Next year.” from him. Smiling from cheek to cheek, little Amanda helped her father load his arms and fingers with bags and boxes, saving two boxes for herself to carry.
Before the father stood up to leave, I piped up my farewell. “It’s a lovely Christmas this year, isn’t it?” The pair looked at me as I rose from my bench, little Amanda’s eyes wide with interest. “You two did great with your shopping, and I hope you both have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.”
“You too,” the father replied. I nodded and turned away.
But as I was walking away, I heard Amanda say, “Is she an angel, Daddy? I saw her at the Disney store when we were in line paying, and I saw her talking to you when I was giving my gift to Santa.”
I smiled at her father’s response that faded into the throng of people behind me: “Maybe, sweetheart.”
© Elle Short Stack Story Time 2014
This Christmas, I wish for those who usually go without to have a little something. Whether it be from the generosity of others or from a shelter, I hope they find a soft pillow to rest their head on, a warm bed to fight off the cold of night, and a hot meal to fill their stomachs. For the children of those less fortunate, I wish for the merriment of Christmas to find them wherever they may be.