Visiting Virginia

ChristmasHeader

Braydon went into the kitchen and found Molly, his little sister, sitting at the table writing. He walked up behind her and peered over her shoulder. After seeing what she was doing, he snatched the paper from under her hands.

“Hey, give that back,” she yelled.

“What’s this? A letter to Santa?” he asked, holding the paper out of her grasp.

“It’s none of your business!”

Braydon held the paper up high enough that she couldn’t reach it, but face down so he could read her handwriting.

“Dear, Santa,” he began, reading the note.

“Stop it!” Molly screamed. “Mom!”

“I’ve been a really good girl this year,” Braydon continued. “All I want for Christmas is a cell phone of my very own. I promise I won’t ask for—”

Molly hit him hard in the stomach, causing him to grunt and double over. She grabbed the paper back from him, scowling the whole time.

“That’s mine,” she said. “Leave my stuff alone!”

“You don’t really still believe in Santa, do you?” Braydon said, once he’d recovered enough air to speak. “You’re ten years old now. It’s time to give all that up. There’s no such thing as Santa.”

“Yes there is, Braydon! You stop that right now!”

“Come on Molly, grow up.”

Upon hearing the yelling, their father Craig came into the room demanding answers.

“What is going on here? What is all the yelling about?” he asked.

“Dad, Braydon says there’s no Santa,” Molly said desperately.

“She’s ten years old, dad,” Braydon began. “It’s time she knew—”

“Braydon, go to your room,” his dad said.

“But dad—”

“Now Braydon!”

Braydon left the kitchen and headed upstairs to his room. Craig pulled a chair around the table and placed it next to the one Molly had been sitting in. He patted her seat and nodded his head for her to sit. The scowl remained on her face as she did so.

“There is too a Santa, isn’t there dad?” she asked.

Craig sighed. “Molly, your brother was wrong to do what he did. You’re getting older now…”

“Dad? There’s a Santa, right?”

“Let’s go upstairs and get your mother. Then the three of us can have a talk,” Craig said.

WreathFlat

Upstairs, Braydon slammed into the bedroom he shared with his older brother Nolan. Nolan was 15, two years older than Braydon, who looked up to him as younger brothers do. When Braydon crashed angrily onto his bed, he disturbed Nolan, who was trying to play a video game on his computer.

“Dude, knock it off,” Nolan said. “You’re distracting me. What’s the deal?”

“Dad got mad and sent me up here,” Braydon said.

“What’d you do?” Nolan asked after pausing the game.

“Nothing. I just told Molly there’s no Santa. She’s ten years old, she would’ve figured it out soon enough on her own.”

“Dude, not cool,” Nolan said.

“I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“When you were little Mom and Dad told me that no matter what, I had to let you believe in Santa for as long as possible. They said it wasn’t for me to ruin the magic. It’s three weeks until Christmas, dude. You could’ve at least let her go one more year believing.”

“Whatever,” Braydon said. “The whole thing’s stupid anyway.”

“Yeah, well Mom and Dad aren’t going to think so.”

Nolan un–paused his computer and disappeared back into the video game world. Braydon felt a twinge of regret, but he convinced himself that what he had done wasn’t that big a deal. He didn’t know that just down the hallway, Molly was in tears as her parents told her the truth.

WreathFlat

Later that afternoon, Braydon’s mom, Chloe, entered the boys’ room to have a talk with him. She told him that Molly was very upset, and wanted nothing to do with Christmas this year, or ever for that matter. Chloe was visibly upset with her son, and told him he needed to stay in his room until dinner. At the table that night, he would need to apologize to Molly. Braydon tried to protest, but with a simple raise of her hand, Chloe made it very clear that she and Braydon’s father had made up their minds.

At dinner, Braydon tried to offer an apology to Molly, but she refused to answer him or even look in his direction.

“Molly, I’m sorry I told you about Santa,” he said. After a long silence he spoke again. “I said I’m sorry, Molly. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Molly, your brother is talking to you,” her father said. Molly sat staring down at her plate, still not speaking or moving.

“Young lady, your brother and father have both spoken to you,” her mom said. “I expect you to answer.”

“Why?” Molly asked.

“Excuse me? Why?” Chloe said, her eyes widening.

“Yeah, why Mom? Why should I talk to any of you? You’ve all been lying to me for years.”

“Molly, we understand you’re upset,” her father said, “but I’m not going to have you ignoring the whole family for Christmas. This weekend we’re going to get a tree—”

“What’s the point?” Molly asked.

“Excuse me?”

“What’s the point? There’s no Santa, why have a tree? Why have Christmas at all?”

“Christmas is about more than Santa, Molly,” her mother reasoned. “It’s about faith in Christ, and family, and giving…”

“It’s all a lie,” Molly said, looking up for the first time. “Why should I believe any of it?”

“I know it’s hard Moll,” Nolan said, chiming in. “It’ll get better. There’s lots of great stuff about Christmas other than Santa.”

“Like what?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Like presents, and good food—and lights and decorations, and stuff.”

“It’s all stupid,” Molly said. “What’s the point?”

“The point is, we are a family,” her father said. “And we’re going to have a wonderful Christmas together.”

“Then have it without me,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

Her father started to speak again, but Chloe placed a hand on his arm and shook her head. They ate the rest of their dinner in silence. It wasn’t a promising start to the holiday season.

Craig sat in bed that night, browsing the internet on his laptop. Chloe stood at the foot of the bed watching him and rubbing cream on her hands.

“She’ll come around,” she said to her husband.

“I’m not so sure. She’s stubborn like her mother,” he said, smiling as he glanced up at her.

“Very funny. She will, Molly loves Christmas.”

“She did. I’m worried it’s lost a little too much of its luster for her now.”

“Well, is there anything we can do about it?” Chloe asked.

“Maybe,” Craig said, a curious look coming over his face as he peered at the laptop screen. Chloe walked over to see what he was looking at and stood next to his side of the bed. “Maybe it’s time we visit Virginia,” he said spinning the computer so she could see the screen.

His wife scanned what he had been looking at, but the look of confusion didn’t leave her face.

“Visit Virginia?” she asked.

Craig took the computer back and began typing. A smile came over his face and he spun the laptop back around for his wife to see.

“Yup. Visit Virginia—just a day trip,” he said, smiling.

“Don’t you think she could just read it?”

“Nope. Wouldn’t have the same effect. We need to visit Virginia.”

“Not much of a holiday trip, is it?” Chloe said, her face souring.

“On the contrary. I think it’s just what our family needs to find the Christmas spirit again.”

“Okay Craig, if you think we need to visit Virginia, we can go. When do you want to leave?” Chloe asked.

WreathFlat

That Saturday, Craig loaded everyone into the family Suburban and climbed behind the wheel. Nolan sat in the very back with a variety of electronics to occupy his time. Braydon and Molly sat reluctantly side by side in the row behind their parents. Their protests about a road trip had been met with some understanding by their mother, but had been largely ignored by their father.

“Where are we going anyway?” Molly asked for probably the tenth time that morning.

“To visit Virginia,” her father said.

“You keep saying that, dad,” Braydon added. “What’s in Virginia?”

“No—no, son. We aren’t going to Virginia. We’re going to visit Virginia—in New York. We should be there in about six and a half hours.”

“Six and a half hours?” Molly moaned. “Who’s Virginia anyway?”

“She’s the woman who is going to prove that Santa is real,” her father said matter–of–factly.

“What?” Braydon exclaimed. “Dad, don’t be ridiculous. Santa isn’t real.”

“Depends on what you mean, Braydon,” his father said as he pulled the Suburban out of the driveway.

They drove east from Cumberland, Maryland, on I–68 before turning north to drive through Pennsylvania. Molly and Braydon continued to ask questions, but neither of their parents would say any more about the trip. The two younger children were told they would just have to wait. Craig and Chloe had had discussed the whole trip with Nolan already. He understood and was a good sport about the whole thing, despite having to give up an entire Saturday for the adventure. Christmas was important to Nolan, who was quite sentimental for a fifteen–year–old young man, and he hoped his parents’ plan would help the family recapture the wonder.

The family stopped around noon at a small diner for lunch. The place was decorated in red and green garland and twinkling colored lights glittered around the small dining room. Molly noted that their waitress was especially cheerful, and so she humored the woman when she asked what Molly had asked Santa for.

“I asked for my own cell phone,” she said.

“Wow, that’s quite a gift!” the waitress exclaimed looking at Molly’s parents, who just smiled back. “But I’m sure if you’ve been a good girl, Santa will treat you real nice.”

“Yes, I hope so,” Molly said, forcing a smile in return.

When they had returned to the Suburban, Molly commented to her parents about the waitress.

“She was nice, but why do adults feel the need to ask kids about Santa? Is it some secret agreement where you all lie together?” she asked.

“How can you be so sure she was lying, Molly?” her dad asked.

“Dad, there’s no Santa. I’m sure she knows that.”

“Well, you never know. Let me ask you this, Molly. If you knew that woman still believed in Santa, would you tell her that he’s not real?”

“I wouldn’t lie to her. I would tell her the truth,” Molly said. “But I’m sure she knows. She would figure it out when her parents stopped pretending.”

“Don’t confuse what’s actual with what’s real – what’s fact with what’s true. They may be related, but they’re not the same thing,” her dad said.

“What?” Molly asked.

“Yeah, what Dad?” Braydon added.

“I’ll explain later,” their dad said.

WreathFlat

It was around three–thirty in the afternoon when the family Suburban pulled into downtown Chatham, New York. Molly saw Christmas trees and wreaths for sale on the side of the road. The lot was decorated with large colorful lights and the families had smiles on their faces as they went to choose that perfect tree. Craig turned the car down a side street and parked on the side of the road.

“Alright, everybody out,” he said.

Chloe, Craig, and Molly opened their doors and stepped out into the crisp December air.

“Dad, this is a cemetery!” Braydon called from his seat in the SUV.

“Dude, just get out,” Nolan said from the back.

The brothers climbed out of the car and joined the rest of the family. The five of them began walking through the headstones as the two adults and Nolan scanned the names. Nolan was the one who found what they were looking for.

“Over here guys,” he called to the others.

The rest of the family joined him in front of a low, simple stone bearing a cross and a basic inscription

VIRGINIA O’HANLON DOUGLAS

1889—1971

REST IN PEACE

 

“This is Virginia?” Molly asked.

“Yes, it is,” her father answered.

“She’s… dead,” Braydon said, confused.

“Very observant, dude,” his older brother said, smiling.

“Go ahead, Nolan,” their mother said. “You asked to read it.”

The others looked at Nolan, who walked over next to the stone and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket before speaking.

“This is Virginia O’Hanlon,” he said. “When she was a little girl, she asked her father if Santa Claus was real. He told her she should write to the New York Sun Newspaper and ask them. If she saw it in print, she would know that it’s true. This is what she wrote.” He then read from the paper in his hands.

“Dear Editor: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.

115 WEST NINETY–FIFTH STREET.”

 

“This is what we drove all the way up here for?” Braylon asked.

“Just listen, dude,” Nolan said, shooting him a frustrated glance. Braylon stopped, embarrassed and Nolan was able to continue. “The editor of The Sun, Francais Church, published a response.” Nolan again read from the paper.

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virgina, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.1

 

“Virginia was asked many times, for the rest of her life, if she still believed in Santa,” Nolan said. “Every time, she would give the person who asked a copy of Mr. Church’s editorial response to her letter. She never stopped believing.”

Craig smiled as his oldest son finished speaking. Nolan walked back and joined the family, and turned to face Virginia’s stone.

“Merry Christmas, Virginia,” he said.

“So—you see, Molly?” her father asked. “Santa is as real as those who believe in him make him. He is far more than a man who magically comes down the chimney and leaves gifts for good little girls and boys. He exists in the heart of every giving, caring, generous person—especially during the holidays.”

“He’s real, Molly,” Nolan said. Both she and Braydon turned and looked at their older brother. “Even after I learned that he doesn’t exist, he was real. We still put up a tree, and stockings, and left him cookies and milk. You and Braydon still wrote him letters, until Braydon stopped believing. He was real up until the moment you stopped believing, wasn’t he?”

“But it was all a lie,” Molly said.

“Was it? Was it a lie, or was it real?” Nolan asked. “Does it matter that there wasn’t some fat old guy coming down the chimney? The magic you felt was real—that we all felt. The feelings of happiness and joy and excitement. It was all real, Molly. It can still be real. We just have to believe.”

“You want us to believe in Santa again?” Braydon asked.

“Yes dude, I want you to believe in Santa. At least, in the spirit of Santa—in what he represents.”

Chloe smiled at her husband, glad that he had insisted on the long drive to Virginia’s resting place. A warmth spread through her as she listened to her oldest son talk about the wonders of Christmases past. The memories filled her with happiness.

“I believe,” she said.

“Me too,” Craig said, taking her hand.

“And me,” Nolan said, looking at his younger siblings.

Molly looked down at the grave of Virginia O’Hanlon, the woman who never stopped believing. Then she looked at Braydon.

“Braydon?” she asked.

“I don’t know, Molly,” Braydon said. “It seems stupid to believe in something I know isn’t real.”

“Maybe I know something that would help,” Molly said.

She led her family back to the car and directed her father to drive back out to the main road. When she saw the Christmas Trees for sale on the side of the road, she directed her father to pull into the lot. They soon returned to Virginia’s grave, and Molly laid the wreath they had purchased in front of the stone.

“Merry Christmas, Virginia,” she said. When she looked at Braydon, he nodded.

“Okay, Molly—I’ll try,” he said. “I’ll try to believe.”

“So, kids,” Craig said, “do I need to explain the difference between actual and real—between what’s fact and what’s true? Or do you understand now?”

It was Braydon who answered. “No dad, I think we get it now.”

WreathFlat

The drive home was made largely in the dark. The family didn’t mind, as Christmas lights sparkled in distant houses, lifting their spirits the whole way.

They were south of Bedford, Pennsylvania, approaching the Maryland border when the Suburban got a flat tire. Craig pulled to the side of the road and prepared to get out.

“Dang it,” he said. “I’ll change the tire, you all just hang tight.”

“Can I help, Dad?” Braydon asked.

“Alright, son. Come on.”

Father and son opened the back of the Suburban and pulled out the car jack. They jacked up the car so that they could get to the flat back right tire. They pulled out the spare, and that’s when Craig swore.

“What is it, Dad?” Braydon asked.

“Sorry, son. We don’t have a lug wrench,” his father said, pointing to the place it should be.

“Where is it?”

“I’m not sure, Braydon. It got moved at some point. We’ll have to call somebody. Go up and ask your mom for my cell phone. It’s in the console.”

Braydon was about to do what his father asked when bright lights shone on them from a vehicle pulling up behind the Suburban. A rusty, red tow truck pulled close and stopped. A beefy man opened the door and approached them from around the front of the truck.

“You folks need some help?” he asked in a gravelly voice.

Craig and Braydon eyed the man, who was extremely large and had a full, white beard. He wore a red flannel shirt, and large, dirty boots.

“Um, yeah,” Craig said. “Actually, we could use a lug wrench. It seems we misplaced ours.”

The man laughed deeply and said, “Well, that’s no problem. Give me two shakes and we’ll have you on your way.”

He returned to his tow truck and came back with a wrench. He changed the tire quickly and said, “All set, there you go folks.”

“Thank you…” Craig said.

“Nick,” the man said, extending his hand.

“Nick,” Craig repeated, shaking the man’s out–stretched hand. “Can we give you something for your trouble?”

“No—no that’s fine. I expect good folks like yourselves would do the same for me.”

“Thank you,” Craig said.

“Don’t mention it. Well, I better get going—busy time of year if you can believe it.”

“Have a good night.”

The man nodded and headed back to his truck. Craig and Braydon were lowering the jack to put it away when the man started to pull around them, stopped, and rolled down his window.

“Almost forgot,” Nick said. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Craig and Braydon both said in return as the man pulled away.

Father and son stowed the jack, and then climbed back into the Suburban.

“Who was that guy?” Molly asked.

Her father didn’t say anything, so Braydon answered for both of them.

“I think… it was Santa,” he said, smirking. He caught his father’s eyes smiling back at him in the rearview mirror.

“Really?” Molly said, doubtfully.

“Well… close enough,” Braydon said. “Hey dad?”

“Yes, Braydon?”

“We still need a Christmas tree, ya know?”

“Okay, we can get one tomorrow if you kids want. How’s that sound to you, Molly?”

“Yeah,” Molly said. “That sounds good.”

WreathFlat

When the family arrived home, the change in the air was immediately apparent. Their Cumberland home was filled with the joy and love of the season. Over the coming days, the children hung their stockings by the chimney, and a large Fraser fir tree was placed in the corner of the room and adorned with decorations the family had collected over the years. Craig and Chloe shared the stories associated with each memorable piece as they all took turns placing them on the branches. Under the tree they placed presents, chosen with thought, and wrapped lovingly with bright paper, ribbons, and bows.

On Christmas Eve, the family baked cookies together, placing several on a plate with a large glass of milk in the living room. Braydon smiled at his sister as he suggested that Santa would love them. It didn’t matter to any of them if the cookies were still there in the morning or not.

Molly, Braydon, and their family had learned what it truly means to believe; that it is not an act of the mind, but rather an act of being. Belief is the embodiment of the spirit, and the best way to believe is simply to live and act as though you do. It was a lesson learned from visiting Virginia.

The End

1. http://www.newseum.org/exhibits/online/yes–virginia/