Emily was about 5 years old when I first became acquainted with her and her parents. She was a shy, naïve little gal and cute as a bug. Both of her parents worked, so Emily spent her days at a childcare center before and after school.

When she was about 7, Emily came home from school, very upset. Other children were teasing her because she still believed in Santa Claus. That led to a phone call one evening from her father, who said that surely a yarn-spinner such as I could think of some ploy to convince Emily for one more Christmas that there really was a Santa Claus.

In my shop, covered with years of dust from non-use, was a box containing a complete set of horseshoeing tools. As I sorted through the various items, I uncovered a rock-hard piece of a horse’s hoof and my plan for Emily began to unfold.

With my horseshoeing tools cleaned up, I headed for Emily’s house where she and her father met me outside. As we visited alongside my pickup truck, the curious child spied the unfamiliar shoeing box and asked what it was.

I seriously informed Emily that an explanation would require a vow of absolute secrecy. I told her that my “other” job was to trim the reindeer’s feet each year for Christmas Eve. I explained how to use the hoof rasp and nippers and showed her an actual piece of reindeer hoof.

A flood of questions followed. Which reindeer was the piece of hoof from? Which was the gentlest, fastest, biggest, which, which, which? Curiosity finally satisfied, a happy Emily headed inside. Her father considered my performance very convincing and original.

As I was leaving, Emily came bounding out of the house waving an envelope. I suspected it was the traditional Santa Claus letter that kids do. However, Emily informed me it was a card to her best friend Kathy who had moved away, but she didn’t know the address. With my North Pole connection, it shouldn’t be a problem for me to pass it on to Santa for delivery on his upcoming trip.

When her parents took her to visit Santa a few days later, she asked him if he knew George. Santa was so surprised to hear that she knew me and that, along with the reply she received from her friend Kathy, cemented his reality for a bit longer.

I still look forward to the holiday season each year, and especially a call from a thoughtful young woman many miles away who remembers an aging man who made one Christmas back in 1987 very special.

(Vensel is a resident of Patagonia, where he runs cattle.)

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