“Can you read me a story?”

I turned the page and silently cautioned the next hapless victim: whatever you do, don’t go into the basement ….

The library was frenetic with activity. A Christmas program had just ended, and kids overflowing with holiday excitement and too much sugar had commandeered the computers to continue the search for Carmen Sandiego or were struggling to balance stacks of books they planned to take home to read during Christmas break.

I’d come in search of quiet time. Often, the best place to be alone is in the middle of a crowd, and I found a low couch surrounded by shelves of children’s books. Outside, snowflakes the size of half dollars were piling up like meringue on the playground equipment.

Our hero went into the basement. It didn’t end well.

“Can you read me a story?”

I looked up when I realized the question was aimed at me. She was wearing a red velveteen dress, and a barrette held a tiny sprig of plastic holly in hair so blond it was almost white. She had an oversized book tucked under one arm, and with her free hand she was nibbling the edge of a sugar cookie wrapped in a bright green napkin.

I closed my book and set it aside, welcoming a break from the kind of things only Stephen King could imagine.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi.”

“They have more cookies, if you want one. They’re really good …”

She might have been 4 years old, and I looked around to see if she was with a grownup. With all the activity, it was hard to tell. “Is your mother here?”

“I came with my gramma and my little brother,” she explained. “They’re looking for a book he can bring home. I got this one …” She shrugged a shoulder, indicating the book tucked under her arm. “Can you read it to me?”

“Well, um, maybe you should … ”

Without waiting for my answer she started climbing up onto the couch, which isn’t easy when you’re trying to juggle a big book and a half-eaten cookie.

“Let me take your book,” I said. She lifted her elbow and I pulled the book away.

I glanced at the cover, then did a double-take. Could it be? It’s been 30 years … no, closer to 40! It sure LOOKS the same. Santa Claus smiled up from the cover of the book, and I ran my fingers over his red suit. I don’t believe it …

“I had this exact same book when I was your age!” I told the little blond. She didn’t seem to share my excitement, and took another bite of cookie. “My mom read it to me hundreds of times! On the cover of my book Santa’s suit was made of real cloth, just like this one! I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen! I rubbed my hand on Santa’s suit so much that I wore off all the felt …”

I ran my hand over the cover and my fingers tingled with memories.

“Can you read it to me?”

I could have recited it from memory.

“T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house …”

At the checkout desk a young voice screeched, “Mommy! Maddy got seven books and I only got six!”

“Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”

The words painted pictures in my mind, just as they did all those years ago.

“His eyes, how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!”

I eventually outgrew it, and my copy of the book had been forgotten. But for one snowy afternoon the frenzy around me had vanished and I was 6 years old again, sitting next to my mom as she read the book for “the umpteenth time”.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

“Time for bed,” Mom would say when she reached the end. “We’ll read it again tomorrow.”

And we always did.

I closed the book and let my fingers linger on the familiar cover.

“Santa Claus is real, you know,” the little blond said. It came out as both a statement and a question.

“Yes, he is.”

I’d gotten so caught up in my memories that I hadn’t noticed Grandma standing nearby, holding the hand of a little boy.

“I hope she hasn’t been a bother.”

“No, “ I said. “I enjoyed it.”

“Should we go home?” Grandma said, and the little girl obediently climbed off the couch. I handed her the book.

“Can you tell him ‘thank you,’ Angela?”

“Your name means ‘angel’ …” I said.

She smiled, and her eyes twinkled like starlight on a summer night.

“Thank you,” she said.

Thank you, Angela, for the Christmas miracle.

You’ve made me feel like a kid again.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson..

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