It was two days before Christmas and the rain would turn to snow by evening but this morning it was just chilly and we ran through the puddles to the Dollar Tree.
We reached the door at the same time as he did and he held it for us, protected from the drizzle by his umbrella. We were looking for trinkets for gift bags but I lingered over red Santa hats because she loves hats and she did look cute when I put it on her head and for just $1?
But dollars add up and it won’t last past this season so I left it.
We were in the toy aisle when he came up, umbrella folded under his arm. He pushed something into her hand and she stared first at him, then at the paper her fingers had folded around.
“Buy something nice for Christmas,” he told her. He never looked at me.
And then he was gone and she was unfolding a $20 bill in the Dollar Tree aisle.
We bought the Christmas hat, and I kept the extra gift for her I’d intended to return. And we left the store a little warmer than when we’d come in.
I’ve wondered about him since then, as the season came and went and our days slipped by filled with twinkling lights and gift wrap and gingerbread cookies and family gatherings and sleepy mornings. I wonder if he went to the store that morning intending to play Santa? Or if he saw us – me and a toddler in the rain – and thought we were struggling to get by this year and were making do with a dollar store Christmas? Or if her blond curls peeking under a Santa hat stirred some memory from long ago?
But I wish he knew that she didn’t let go of that bill until we reached the counter, and then reluctantly.
And that she’s loved that Christmas Santa hat more than the $1 it cost.
And that gift I would have returned? She plays with it over and over, stabbing big plastic blocks with the plastic needle and watching them run down the string to the floor.
And I wish he knew that we won’t forget our rainy morning run to the Dollar Tree.