Writing "The Santa Man", an online Christmas story for Harlequin, was easy.
I never use the words "easy" and "writing" in the same sentence, so this is a very big first! When Victoria asked me to write a Christmas story set in Willing, Montana, home of my "Willing to Wed" series, I knew exactly who the hero would be. I knew what he would be doing on Christmas Eve. It took much longer to find the right heroine for my flawed, overlooked EMT volunteer and Army veteran. But the story? Oh, that was the easy part (can you believe it? I used the word "easy" again!).
So let me tell you a story...
When my oldest three children were five, seven and twelve, I wanted them to understand that it was important to help Santa give presents to the boys and girls who weren't going to have gifts under the tree. I bought toys to donate to the local version of "Toys For Tots", we delivered them to a drop off center and drove home in snowy darkness. My children weren't the least bit impressed. A week later, when I was having coffee with friends, I told the story of the toys and how I'd failed trying to teach my children the true meaning of Christmas.
My dear friend Omar, who was a deputy sheriff at the time (in a north Idaho county bigger than the state of Rhode Island) set down his coffee mug and told me how a few days before he'd accompanied another deputy delivering toys and food to the needy families.
"Kristine," he said, his voice choked. "You wouldn't believe the places I saw. You'd never know these houses were there. I'll never forget it. You have to know," he insisted, blinking back tears. "You have to know those toys you bought really mattered."
After that I never forgot to donate toys, whether my children were with me or not, whether it was a chance to educate them or not.
Fast forward seventeen years. We have six children, not three. The oldest is in college. The youngest, a girl, is in second grade. There is a new son, who is eight.
When you adopt older children, their stories trickle out slowly. Sometimes it takes months, even years, to discover their lives "Before I Was Adopted".
"Before I was adopted," my eight year old son told me one day shortly before his second Christmas with us, "I didn't get any Christmas presents. 'Cept one time. A Match Box car. It was really cool. Black. It went really fast."
"Who gave it to you?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. We went somewhere and we all got a toy. Then J---
got mad and threw it out the window. I really cried."
"I'll bet you did." We were baking cookies and I kept my voice as casual as I could.
"I went outside and looked for it but it got dark and I couldn't find it."
Can you picture a three year old boy out in the dark, looking for a little car his drugged out father tossed from a third story window? The only present this child would have?
And that's why it was easy to write "The Santa Man" and cast Horatio Porterman (known as "Hip") in the leading role. Because surely a man who delivers gifts and food to poor families at Christmas is a hero, even if he doesn't think of himself as a hero at all.
Just like my dear friend Omar. And just like my son, who grew up to be a proud Army sergeant and served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who continues to distinguish himself in so many ways.
He's actually coming home for Christmas this year! He has his own fancy black car now, a BMW with all the bells and whistles. The real thing.
But I think about that little boy's story every year when I buy sets of Match Box cars. And Tonka trucks. Barbies. Games. Legos. And more Match Box cars. I love hauling them to whatever store is acting as a drop off center. I try not to cry until I get back in my car.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, with love and joy and good memories. And please know that all of those toys you donated to charity surely will mean a great deal to the children who are lucky enough to receive them.