The stranger, the mistletoe girl, and a surprise envelope
The young girl set up her table in the park. She then reached into a large bag and took out several Christmas ornaments that she had crafted from mistletoe cut from her uncle’s farm.
The day held promise, and she sported a smile full of white teeth as she attached a homemade sign advertising her wares to the front of the table.
“Whatever money I make will help me get a set of braces,” she told herself.
Every so often she looked inside the can that sat at the edge of the table and inspected its contents.
“The lunch hour will bring more customers,” she told herself.
That was the case, but the afternoon also brought a surprise in the form of a security guard.
“Young lady,” said the guard, in a gruff and authoritarian voice, “do you have a permit to be selling things in the park?”
The girl was taken aback. “No, sir,” she replied.
“I must ask you to move on, then. City ordinance says you can’t be here.”
Just at this juncture, a robust voice introduced a new man to the scene.
The man’s size, clothing, and white beard gave him an avuncular look. In a booming voice, the man spoke as though he was speaking for himself and the guard. “What lovely ornaments. Officer, can’t you let her stay? No, I suppose not. You must do your job, and I must do mine.”
The man then turned to the girl and said, “Let me take a picture of you. A big smile, if you will … The Mistletoe Girl. And I know your story already. And here’s an envelope for you. A small present. Open it on Christmas Eve.”
The guard had surprised the girl when he burst upon the scene, and now the sudden appearance of the jolly old man, his one-sided conversation, and equally sudden exit convinced her that the day had gone awry.
“What an odd fellow,” she said to herself. “I wonder why he took a picture. And what’s in the envelope?”
The girl’s reverie was broken by the guard’s voice. “C’mon, c’mon. Got to get moving. I haven’t got all day.”
The Christmas tree in the girl’s house was a real one; it had been cut from her uncle’s farm. At its base lay a small arrangement of presents, most of them recognizable by their shapes. One was a mystery: the envelope.
On Christmas Eve when it was time to open presents, the girl could barely contain her excitement. She also braced herself for potential disappointment. After all, the man was a stranger, and most definitely on the eccentric side.
“Why, it’s a newsletter,” said the mother, as the girl pulled out a sheet of paper from the envelope and unfolded it. “And look, your picture is on the front.”
“That’s the picture the man took of me in the park,” the girl said.
The father read the story. It was all about his daughter: a short, biographical sketch that toward the end introduced the mistletoe ornaments and the need for the girl to raise money to buy braces.
Attached to the newsletter was a handwritten note. It read: “I have received advance orders from my readers for your mistletoe ornaments. I will let you know how many in a future newsletter. My reindeers and I will take care of next year’s delivery. Payments have been deposited in a bank account established in your name. Merry Christmas, Santa.”
The girl flung her arms first around her mother, then her father, and then her uncle, and gave each a hearty hug. “It’s going to be an awesome Christmas,” she said, showing a flash of teeth that soon would have braces on them. After a pause she mused: “I wonder how the newsletter got inside the envelope.”
Ramnath Subramanian is a retired public-school teacher. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org