Charlie is a simple man. He never really had what you might call wants. He is most contented living a quiet life. Charle never sought out a wife, though he did date in his younger days. It’s just that when he thought of their happiness and compared it to his lifestyle well, he didn’t feel he should hold them back. It seemed that everything was going fine until this Christmas. For some reason, Charlie regretted not having children of his own. Of not having ever seen the smile on a young child’s face as they open up a present on Christmas morning. Charlie was an only child of parents who were good but had a very meager income. Thus said, Christmas presents for Charlie were usually small and practical. He never knew what it was like to receive the much-desired gift.
Charlie is standing behind some children watching a train circle a Christmas tree in the display window at Woolworths while they ask each other what they want for Christmas. Listening to their excited chatter, Charlie decides he’ll do something about it this year and declares out loud, “I’ll do it! I’ll make some child’s Christmas wish come true! And I know just how I’ll do it too.” The startle children all stopped their chatter and turned to face the fifty-year-old man in the brown suit and smiled at him.
Charlie belonged to the catholic church of St. Paul. He doesn’t feel as though he is a particularly religious man, but he does love the kindness and gentleness of Jesus. Charlie tries his best to follow the teaching of Christ, and this year he decides to be extra charitable. He goes to the church and approaches the angel tree standing near the church’s baptismal font. It contains the names and wishes of children whose families are poor or have other circumstances that render them in need. The ones with pink ribbons are girls, the ones with blue are boys. Charlie studies them intently until he sees one named “Charles,” the same as his own. This boy wants a small plastic wind-up train that will travel on a plastic set of tracks. Charlie figures that the boy’s parents probably told him not to ask for anything too expensive.
“No, that won’t do at all, my young friend! I’m going to buy you the best and biggest train that I can find!” Charlie declares.
The following day, which happens to be Christmas Eve, Charlie set off for the newly opened South Shore Plaza. With its twenty-seven stores and a Filene’s that is three stories high, he is sure he will find the perfect train for Charles. The thing is, Charlie has never been Christmas shopping before and is in for a series of surprises. And the first one is about to happen.
Charlie is driving down Route Three, whistling a Christmas tune, thinking about the big train set he is about to buy. Suddenly the traffic begins to slow down. Then, it gets slower and slower until it finally stops altogether. “There must be an accident up ahead.” Charlie thinks. But as he sits and waits, the traffic in the other two lanes zips right alone, no problem. So Charlie continues to creep along slowly for the next hour until he sees the plaza entrance.
“Jumping Jehosaphat!” Charlie exclaims out loud. He has never seen so many cars and people in one place at one time. Next came the trolling for a parking place. As he cruises up and down the lanes, he sees people fighting over parking spaces, each claiming they had gotten there first!
Horns are blasting, and people are swearing at each other, all the while Tony Bennet is singing, “ It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” over the speaker system. Charlie is almost at the end of a long lane when he sees a big Buick Special, about the size of an aircraft carrier, trying to navigate into a much too small of a spot. Unfortunately, two cars had parked a little over the guidelines and left no room for the big car. When the driver leaves in frustration, Charlie eyes the spot and is glad to have a new 1961 Renault Dauphine Deluxe. He carefully nudges the nose of his small car in between the other two and finds that he has at least two inches on each side. So he drives in until he can still open his car door and shut off his engine, places the car in neutral, and steps out. After closing his door, he walks behind the vehicle and gently pushes it into the parking space. Satisfied, Charlie dusts off his hands and straightens his tie. He is ready to buy that train!
As Charlie enters Filene’s, he is taken back by the loud noise of the people shopping. People are arguing over items of clothing, kids screaming and crying, and there is a fair amount of chaos everywhere. No matter where he looks, all Charlie can see are frantic shoppers everywhere, and he feels as if he is lost and adrift in a massive sea of mayhem.
Charlie sees a sign denoting that the toy department is on the third floor. Taking a deep breath and tugging down on his sports coat, Charlie sets off in that direction as politely as he can.
“Excuse me. Pardon me, may I pass by? Pardon me.” and so forth. Then, just as Charlie passes a rather rotund lady, she turns quickly, hitting Charlie in his right eye with a roll of Christmas wrapping paper. Charlie exclaims, “OH!” and, in reaching for his eye, bumps into the lady and her packages, who in turn gives Charlie a dirty look as if the accident is all his fault. Then, in his effort to get away, Charlie turns and bumps into a female floor mannequin to whom he apologizes, thinking it’s another person. When he realizes it isn’t, Charlie is very relieved and continues his trek to Toyland. Unfortunately, Charlie is stopped short in his tracks because the button on his sport coat sleeve is caught in the mannequin’s sweater. Charlie is having difficulty freeing himself from the sweater, what with his stinging and watery eye and crowds of people bumping into him. Finally, he decides he’ll have better luck if he goes up under the sweater to release the button from that side. Charlie is groping and fishing around for the button when he notices a large man with his arms folded over his chest staring at him. It’s a Pinkerton floor detective. The large man asks, “And just what do you think you’re doing, pal? Perhaps your some kind of a pervert, uh?” Charlie squints at the man with his bad eye and is genuinely confused.
Charlie responds, “Uh?’, then he notices that part of the shopping mob has stopped to stare at him. Some with shocked looks on their faces, some with disgust. One lady looks utterly horrified and covers her child’s eyes with her hand! It suddenly dawns on Charlie what they all must be thinking, and his face turns red with embarrassment.
“Oh! No, no, no! It’s not like that at all!” Charlie stammers. “Excuse me, sir, but who are you? I would like to explain, please.”
The big burly man leans closer to Charlie and tips his hat forward, and says intimidatingly, “I’m the store floor detective. So go ahead and give it your best shot.”
“Well, it’s like this see. Someone knocked into me and pushed me into this mannequin, and my button got caught! See.” Charlie explains pitifully while motioning to his arm. The detective reaches inside the sweater and finds where the button is stuck. Holding Charlie’s wrist, he rips the button from the sport coat’s sleeve and hands it to Charlie.
“There,” he exclaims, your free. Next time just ask for help, see.”
Charlie looks at the button in his hand and softly says thank you. As Charlie starts to leave, the Pinkerton stops him and, poking him in the shoulder, ” I’m going to keep my eye on you.” Charlie swallows hard and heads for the escalator to the third floor.
As soon as Charlie steps off the top step, he is overwhelmed by the sound of a thousand children all waiting to see Santa. Plus the fact that there is hardly any room to move. Charlie finds himself wading through a sea of munchkins when he feels a small hand take his. Charlie looks down to see a little girl looking up at him and smiles. On the other hand, the little girl sees a strange man with a red and swollen eye and a crooked smile looking down at her. She releases a high pitch ear-shattering scream.
“YOU’RE NOT MY DADDY!” and starts to cry. In the once blaring Santa line, children and parents became dead silent as all turned to stare condemningly at Charlie. Charlie laughs nervously and says, “That’s correct little girl. I’m not your… Before Charlie can say anything further, he feels a crushing pain in his neck as the Pinkerton detective grabs him and lifts him off his feet
“You again! Trying to steal a little girl this time! I’m running you in.” he shouts.
Standing on tip-toes, Charlie yells desperately, “NO! She took my hand! I wasn’t going to do anything to her. Honest! Tell him, sweety. Just tell the nice man, please?” But the only thing she seems able to do is to keep screaming, “HE’S NOT MY DADDY! I WANT MY DADDY!”
The detective grabs Charlie by the front of his shirt and is about to drag him away when a voice in the crowd yells, “Suzy! Here I am! Are you alright?” The man who steps forward is the same size as Charlie and is wearing the same sports coat. The little girl runs into her father’s arms, sobbing and explaining, “I was looking at some dollies, and then I couldn’t see you anymore. So I looked for you everywhere. Then I saw your jacket and took your hand, but it wasn’t you!”
The detective is holding onto Charlie’s shirt and tie so tightly that all poor Charlie can do is wheeze and point to the other man’s coat and then his own. Then, realizing the little girl mistook Charlie for her dad, the detective releases his hold on Charlie, who immediately takes a big gasp of air and starts coughing.
“Okay.” says the detective. “I see what happened here, but just the same, if I have to deal with you again, I’m going to throw you out of here physically! Understand?” Charlie holds his hands up in front of himself defensively while nodding his head and gasping for air.
By now, Charlie’s a mess. His hair is all mussed up from being shaken violently, and his right eye is a giant swollen puffball with a slit in it. His shirt is untucked and hanging out under his coat, and his tie has been knocked askew. Squinting at his watch, he sees it is getting late, and he still hasn’t bought the train set yet and hurries off in that direction.
Rounding the corner, Charlie sees a large group of people stacked up in front of him. Over their heads is a sign that states, “Lionel train set number 5767 with carrying case, HO scale, make real smoke! Usually $59.99 on sale for $55.99.” As Charlie pushes forward, he thinks, O’, thank you, God. It’s just the one I wanted!” Then suddenly, everyone moans and moves out of the way, revealing an empty table. Every set is sold. Charlie asks a nearby clerk if they will bring out anymore, but the man says there aren’t any more Lionels left of any type.
“All I got left is on that rack over there.” says the haggard-looking man, pointing to a small display rack. Charlie walks over to the display of plastic wind-up trains in a cellophane package. “Oh, well.” he sighs disappointedly and buys one.
Returning to his car, Charlie is shocked by what he sees. There are deep scratches down the sides, and both mirrors are missing. His brand new Renault is ruined. Wiping a tear from his good eye, Charlie heads home, deeply depressed.
The church bulletin said that Farther Bill would be handing out the toys to all the children who attended mass right after the service. So Charlie stays to try and see what the little boy he bought his present for looks like. When Farther Bill calls out,” Charles,” a scruffy-looking blonde-haired boy rushes forward and takes Charlie’s gift. Then, running back to the pew where his mother is waiting, he exclaims excitedly, “Look, Mama! Can I open it now!?” “Of course you can,” she replies. So the boy tears open his gift and squeals with delight, “Look, Mama! It’s just what I wanted!” Charlie watches the boy leave, clutching his treasure to his chest. Then, turning back to the front of the church, Charlie looks at Christ on the cross.
“Thank you, Lord, for showing me that look of joy on little Charles’ face, for that’s the train he truly desired for Christmas. And that was precisely the look I had said I would like to see. I guess I got carried away thinking bigger would be better. You put me back on track and gave us both a Merry Christmas.”
A lady about Charlie’s age approaches his pew and introduces herself.
“Hello. I don’t know if you know me. My name is Helen Morrissey.”
Rising from his seat, Charlie responds, “Oh sure, I’ve seen you plenty of time at morning mass during the week. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Charlie Tucker.”
“Well, I was wondering what you might be doing for Christmas? But first, what on earth happened to your eye?” Helen asks with genuine concern in her voice.
“Oh, that’s a long story, but as for Christmas, I guess it will be the same thing as every other Christmas. I’ll stay home watching the Christmas Parade drinking eggnog.”
Helen says, “I see. I don’t have any extended family either, so I was wondering if you might like to come over to my house for dinner, and you can tell me that long story. What do you say?”
Charlie smiles, “Helen, I’d be delighted.” He then offers Helen his arm, and they stroll down the center aisle together. And as they leave, Charlie thinks, “Yes, this is the best Christmas gift ever.