by Mark J. Mitchell
Dad was diagnosed with small-cell cancer, terminal. “Enjoy what life I have left,” he said. He had three good years before his downhill slide.
Then a family call said it was time to head north to see Dad as his time drew near. I booked a flight as soon as possible to meet my brother Paul and my sister Claudia in Sacramento.
One can imagine my mood as the plane cut through the air. No smiles for anyone on this “bummer trip”.
I sourly walked through the Sacramento terminal, in no hurry to get anywhere — especially the hospital. Ahead was a woman with a little girl on her shoulder looking backwards at me. Out of nowhere this girl’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. Out of her mouth came one word: “Santa!”
Now, I’ve got long silver white hair, a full beard and mustache, and while I’m not the fat man always depicted, I fit this little girl’s vision of Santa Claus.
Stopping dead in her tracks, her mother spun around. As she started to apologize for her daughter’s outburst, I put my finger to my lips and said, “Sshh! I’m on vacation!”
The little girl broke out into a great big smile and shook her head yes. Her mother only smiled and walked away. Her daughter gazed back with her big smile shining.
Her smile changed my mood — and my life. I put it in mind that I wouldn’t show Dad anything but a smiling face.
At the hospital, I found myself needing the facilities. While washing up, I thought of a way to lighten up the situation. Taking ten feet of toilet paper, I stuffed one end into my pants.
I had a tail.
Out the door I went — much to Paul and Claudia’s astonishment. Claudia piped up, “Mark, do you know what you have following you?”
“Yep,” I said. “That I do.”
“Oh, jeez,” said Paul.
Arrows painted on walls led to the ICU. All along the way people pointed and laughed. I continued on my way like there was nothing wrong with this world. A glance over my shoulder showed Paul and Claudia following quite distantly.
The ICU nurses nearly busted a gut laughing. They pointed at Dad’s room, and off I went. Howls of laughter followed me. Dad was sitting up, trying to see what all the commotion was. Taking one look at me standing in the doorway, he said, “I should have known it was you!”
I walked to his bedside, gave him a big hug and kiss and told him how much I loved him. Later, Dad called Mom over for a kiss. He said, “See you in Paradise, honey,” and away he went.
I wish I could thank that little girl. Without her help, I would have been in tears and not much good to Dad. Because of her, Christmas took on a new meaning, which I try to keep alive throughout the year. “Peace on Earth, good will to all.”