“Where do you live, Nick?” asked Pastor Bruce. “Are you from around here?”
“Well, not exactly. I’m in town through Christmas, helping out at the mall.” Santa hated to make up this little white lie, but considering the circumstances, he was trying to adjust to the situation as quickly as he could. Santa never likes to be rude to people and he figured the best he could do right now was to give an answer that resembled somewhat his actual profession.
“So where’s home, Nick?” Pastor Bruce continued.
“Well, Pastor. I’ve moved around a lot through the years. I’ve lived mainly in the northern part of the country.” Santa continued. “I really enjoy winter. The snow and ice and all. How about you? Where are you from?”
“Well, my wife, that’s Carol over there serving up the desserts, is from Indiana, and I’m from Iowa. We settled here about fifteen years ago. We pastor a small church just down the street from here.”
“Are you a church-goer, Nick?” Pastor Bruce inquired.
“Well sir, I’m glad you asked. Where I come from, the church is right down the street as well. I’m usually there on Sunday mornings, unless I’m out of town on business.”
“What kind of business, Nick?”
“Ahh . . . people.” Santa, or should I say Nick, said with certainty. “People business, Pastor Bruce. I love people, and my job is to help them out in any way I can. Years ago my dad told me, ‘Nick, don’t go around life hoping to get people to do something for you. No sir, Nick,’ he said. ‘Spend your life doing something nice for people, and most everything will work out well for you in life.’ I took that advice from my dad, many years ago. It’s worked pretty well for the most part, so far, I guess . . .”
“Well, this sounds a lot like the work my wife and I do.” Pastor Bruce responded. “Helping people.”
“Say Nick, we’re having a Christmas Eve candlelight service over at the church at midnight. If you’re around, why don’t you walk on down to the church and join us. Lots of music and warm cider afterwards.”
Joy nodded with agreement upon hearing her dad’s invitation.
“My, my . . . Pastor,” Santa replied. “That sounds very fine. I can’t guarantee it, but if I’m still here, I would be honored to join you and your family. Thank you, very much. And thank you for the conversation. Nothing better than good conversation to go along with good food.”
Pastor Bruce reached under his apron and pulled out a few business cards with the church information on it. Just as he was handing one to Nick, Carol, his wife, ran up to the table with a cell phone in her hand. Bruce laid the business cards on the table and turned to greet his wife.
“Bruce, it’s Mary Willson on the phone.” Carol explained. “She’s having a big problem with the heat at the duplex. She started a small fire in the fireplace, and for some reason, the smoke is not going up and out the chimney. The living room is starting to fill up with smoke. She tried opening and closing the flue, but it’s just getting worse. She’s asking if someone can come over right away and help her. I’m stuck here in the kitchen . . . do you suppose you and the kids could go see what you can do?”
Nick tried to pretend as though he wasn’t listening to the conversation. He turned his attention to Joy, asking her for another packet of creamer. Joy giggled and gave Nick two. Noticing that Pastor Bruce seemed a bit flustered by the news about Mary, Santa (excuse me, Nick) decided to speak up.
“Pastor Bruce. I can help out.” Nick said with confidence. “You remember I was telling you that my business is helping people. How can I help you here?”
“That’s OK, Nick.” Pastor Bruce replied. “We can handle this.”
Carol rolled her eyes and said, “Are you sure, Bruce? Maybe this nice gentleman can assist us?”
“I’d be glad to, Mrs. Ah . . .”
“Dodson.” Carol said, extending her right hand toward Nick’s. “Hi there, I’m Carol Dodson. Nice to meet you. And you are . . . ?”
“Nick. Nick Clau . . . der.” Again, not knowing what all he was getting himself into, Santa decided to stretch his name from Claus to Clauder.
“Well, nice to meet you Mr. Clauder.” Carol said. “Bruce, maybe Mr. Clauder can help Mary out?”
“Well, maybe you’re right, dear.” Pastor Bruce looked directly into Nick’s face. “Mr. Clauder . . . ahh . . . Nick, why don’t you hop in the car with me right now and we’ll drive over to the duplex and see if we can help Mary.”
“Carol,” Pastor Bruce said, looking back to his wife. “You tell Mary, we’ll be right over.”
Pastor Bruce laid the coffee mugs and coffee carafe on the table right next to his stack of business cards. “Kids, why don’t you put the trays right here with these kind folks and come with me? Hopefully we can get Mary fixed up before we have to be over at the church for the band rehearsal.” Turning back toward Nick, Pastor Bruce asked, “Nick, are you ready?” “Yes sir, Pastor Bruce. Let’s go!”