The pastor tells me he’s never seen so many people turn out for a funeral. Cars are parked for at least a mile down the small gravel street, and mourners are still coming down the main road. Joe was not my grandfather by blood but a neighbor who fed me when I was hungry. Every year, he asked me what I wanted for Christmas. Miraculously, Santa Claus would bring it along with warm clothing. My gifts were not wrapped in fancy paper and bows, but with aluminum foil.
“It’s special because it twinkles like the North Star,” he always said. That warmed me inside because whatever Grandpa Joe said was true.
“I saw Santa last night,” I screamed as I ran into Grandpa Joe’s house one year.
“You shouldn’t stay up. If you’re up next year, Santa won’t bring you anything but a lump of coal.”
“Okay, sorry Grandpa,” I said tearing up.
“I’ll tell Santa you meant no harm,” he said. He pinched my cheeks and gave me that wonderful smile.
“Look what Grandpa Joe bought for you.” I started to tear open the mound of aluminum foil.
“Let me help you.” Grandpa Joe carefully peeled away the shiny wrapping paper from its contents.
“We can use this again.” He winked at me.
It was the pink snowsuit I was sick about. A girl in my class said I was too poor to afford it and I cried for weeks on Grandpa Joe’s shoulder. I hugged him as I clutched onto my new outfit.
“Go on now. Have your Mommy help you put it on and build the biggest snowman on the block.”
“Don’t peek. I’ll come get you when it’s done.” I gave him a kiss on the cheek and ran back home.
It’s my turn to pay my respects to the man who made me feel important. I look into the casket and see his gray hair, the same scruff that peeked out of Santa’s hat that Christmas Eve I stayed up to sneak a peek at Old Saint Nick. As I say good-bye to Grandpa Joe for the last time, I look around the chapel to make sure no one is watching. I wrap the first toy “Santa” ever gave me with aluminum foil and slip it into the casket. I grin. My face burns when I realize everyone in line is smiling at me. They all wave their aluminum foil wrapped packages at me.
I realize my gifts weren’t the only ones he wrapped between selling hot dogs at the flea market concession stand. He provided for thousands of children on his meager wages.
All these years, I thought I was the special one. I guess we all were.