I guess that I have been looking for Santa all of my life. When I was as young as 5 or 6 and we lived on a farm on the Murley’s Branch Road, he came to visit us.

Mother told us that if we would run up to the Wagon Shed and bring in an armload of wood and a little kindling, she would build up a fire in the living room stove and we could play in there.

In actuality, she probably wanted us out from underfoot in the big kitchen where she and my older sister were baking cookies.

But we went. We had just gotten our arms full when my sister opened the back door and yelled; “Kids! Santa Claus is here!”

We looked at each other in astonishment and disbelief. I started to drop my load of kindling, but thought that if it was really Santa, maybe I should keep it.

But mostly, I was just hanging back, scared because I had never seen Santa before. In fact I didn’t know if he was real!

But if he was here, then he must be.

We went in and there he was and he was beautiful! He smiled that lovely smile and patted me on the head.

Out of his pack he took a small decorated box with a string handle. I had seen a box like that before, I knew what it was — I thought.

And I was right! He opened the box and handed each of us a piece of candy. Mine was a French Crème, my all-time favorite candy. Then he gave each of us a box of candy and an orange. I was preoccupied and when I looked up from my treasure, he was gone.

I ate the candy but I kept the box for years, and in my heart I have been looking for him ever since.

My father had a nice white beard but I know that he wasn’t Santa because he always went to bed early on Christmas eve.

One of my brothers dressed like Santa for a children’s party at Christmas one year. But I knew he wasn’t Santa!

I came out of a hardware store a few years ago and saw a gentleman walking across the parking lot. I was transfixed by his beautiful beard. I brazenly said; “Excuse me sir, are you the real Santa?”

He said that, indeed, he was, but I am not sure. But he was nice enough to be Santa.

He told me about his wife and sister, both in the nursing home. He spent lunch time with them, every day, even though his wife had no idea who he was. He probably wasn’t Santa, but he was nice, and so was his beard.

I was at the water fountain in the funeral home, when a beautifully bearded man entered. I introduced myself and asked that proverbial question. He was sorry to disappoint me, but he was not Santa.

As it turned out, he was the brother of a boy with whom I had gone to grade school. But he wasn’t Santa.

Recently I had to have blood work done. As I came out of the lab, I was thinking of anything but Santa — but there he was! Sitting in the waiting room!

His beard was perfect. He was looking up at the ceiling and as I came closer, he asked if I thought those holes in the ceiling were to let the birds in, and he laughed.

He might not have been Santa, but, if not, he has stolen his beard — and his laugh.

Loretta Nazelrod Brown is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears every other Sunday in the Times-News.

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