We had somewhere to be 6 p.m. Saturday evening, so we couldn’t go to 5 p.m. Mass at our usual church. We would have to go to 4 o’clock Mass in the retirement community of Sun City.
Usually when this happens, one of us will go to church alone and the other will stay home with the girls. It’s difficult enough to bring the girls to our church—in fact, we don’t even venture into the actual church, but sit in the adjacent chapel and listen to Mass through the speakers. The only time we go inside is when my parents or in-laws are in town and they say things like, “The chapel? Pfft. C’mon, let’s go inside. The girls will be fine, trust us, we’ll watch them,” and by the first reading they realize this was a TERRIBLE decision.
But Sun City? Welp, Mass in Sun City is … considerably quieter. There are no babies crying, no bustling, no white noise than can otherwise mask the drone of whining and complaints and fighting that will inevitably emerge from our general vicinity. The parishioners who are ecstatic to see the young ones are negated by those who are visibly annoyed by our shushing and the fact we unknowingly sat in “their” pew.
On this occasion, we were venturing out as a family immediately afterwards, so we went to Mass together. Of course there was no way we were going inside, so my wife and I stood in the vestibule while the girls sat on the floor and colored. (Note: I never imagined I’d be one of those parents who allowed their kids to color in church instead of sitting quietly and listeni—LOL, I can’t even finish that thought without laughing.)
Every now and then, a parishioner would emerge through the doors to use the bathroom, and some of them, excited to see children, would approach the girls to say hi. Midway through the Mass, as the girls were head-down in their coloring books, a man emerged through the doors. An older gentleman, he walked slowly and with a cane. He had a long, white beard and was wearing fire engine red pants and suspenders.
My wife and I channeled our parenting ESP, made eye contact with each other, and immediately moved to shield our girls from seeing the man. Believe me this was not the first time we’ve seen someone in public, sensed one or both of the girls would have something to say, and immediately changed course (nine times out of 10 our instincts prove correct, and their offensive remarks fade into the distance as we hustle away).
Whew! That was a close one.
Just minutes later, I went inside by myself for Communion as the girls waited with their mom. Out of the corner of my eye as I stood on line, I saw the same man who, having just received Communion, was heading out the doors to the vestibule. Was he going home? My wife was by herself now … she won’t have a shield … OH NO!
I tried to receive Communion as fast as I could, which, in Sun City was: not fast. When I opened the door to the vestibule, my worst fears were immediately realized.
The girls were jumping up and down, and the second they saw me they screamed, “DADDY, DADDY WE SAW SANTA!”
I looked at my wife, who surprisingly was wearing a smile, albeit one of those defeatist smiles like, “What are you gonna do?” Also, the girls were holding something. Apparently, it was the man who approached our awestruck and speechless girls. He said, “I have something for you,” and handed them each his business card. I looked at the card. Yep, he WAS Santa. (Or, you could at least hire him to be Santa.)
Now the girls want to go to Sun City every week to see Santa. When we arrived at our friends’ house later that evening and told them the story, my buddy said it sounded it like “The Miracle in Sun City.”
Indeed it was. And on that note, happy Halloween.
Note: This column appears in the 10/24 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/25 issue of the Peoria Times.