GEORGE DROVE HIS daughter to school through the snow-covered
quiet countryside. It was the benefit of moving into the middle
of nowhere. You got to see a lot of nature, and it was very pretty with
the heavy snow in the pines and the homes looking like something out
of Currier & Ives. Jingle Bells was on his satellite radio, and George
drove with his coffee cooling in the console and his daughter humming
along with the Christmas music.
“Well, I don’t get to do this every day.”
“Why don’t you never go back to work, Daddy, then you can
drive me every day?”
Megan smiled at him with her two large front teeth.
“I might just do that,” he murmured.
“I like it when you take me. Mom always goes over my homework
in the car but you just play music.”
“That’s why dads are more fun.”
He pulled into Ridgeland Elementary’s parking lot. George looked
over at his daughter and had a momentary pang of sadness. She had
been turning to him, and her hair fanned over one eye. She looked
like a young woman. It pained him to think that next month she
would break into the double digits.“Dad, you are supposed to drop me off in front of the school.”
He turned off the car. “I just wanted to speak to Mrs. Worthington
about your Christmas party and see if she needs any more helpers.”
Megan hoisted her backpack with the small duck clipped to the
zipper. The duck gave him heart. She was still a little girl. There was
“That’s all set I think, Dad. I think they have enough moms.”
“Well, maybe they can squeeze in a dad,” he said gingerly. “Come
on, you can show me your classroom.”
George and Megan squished through the snow and walked into
the heated lobby of her school. The smell of institutional food took
him back to when he was a boy. Where did that smell come from anyway?
It seemed every school in the world was sprayed with cologne of
warm caramels. He followed his daughter down through the hallway
crammed with teachers, mothers, students and the occasional dad.
George and his daughter walked into her classroom, where kids
were dismantling their cold-weather gear. Boots, coats, hats, scarves,
melted snow, and gloves were all over the place. The American flag
hung on one wall with the ABCs running over the board. Posters
about being a good writer, a good citizen, and a good speller broke
up the cinder block walls. Children squealed with excitement. George
remembered his own moment of bliss in sixth grade when he had
walked home from school with a small rubber basketball. It had been
a gift from the Christmas party, and he bounced it the whole way,
knowing that only good things were ahead.
“Dad, there’s Mrs. Worthington, if you want to ask her about the
party,” Megan whispered.
His daughter had already hung her coat, scarf, and gloves in her
cubbyhole. She was very efficient, and George marveled at how different
she was from his other children. Everything seemed a struggle
with his prior family, whereas Megan seemed preprogrammed. So
far, she had been a parent’s dream.
“Alright, I’ll go ask her,” he said, approaching the woman with
the silver globe of hair.
George cleared his throat. “Ah, Mrs. Worthington?”
Cold grey eyes turned on him. He smiled at the dowager in the
print dress with the cold, thin lips.
“Yes. May I help you?”
“I am Megan’s father, George Kronenfeldt.”
Mrs. Worthington put down her pencil and clasped her hands.
“Children take your seats!” Her eyes returned. “What can I do for
you, Mr. Kronenfeldt?”
“Ah, well, Megan came home and told us about the conversation
you had about …” George leaned down and whispered, “about Santa
at the North Pole and how it’s too cold for him there.”
Mrs. Worthington’s eyes frosted over. “And?”
George smiled again, tweaking his beard. “Well, I was thinking.”
He leaned in closer. “If you could just go easy on the whole Santa
couldn’t survive up in the North Pole stuff, I would appreciate it.
Megan is starting to doubt the existence of Santa, and we’d like to
keep that illusion in place as long as we can.”
Mrs. Worthington’s eyes dulled, her mouth turned down.
“It is my job to teach these children, Mr. Kronenfeldt, not perpetuate
George stared at the woman, who had crossed her arms. He
suddenly remembered Mrs. Gary in first grade who hit him with a
pencil because he couldn’t make his eights properly. Mrs. Gary hit
him on the skull. No, no, no, no. How stupid are you? You make them
like this! Then he made another snowman. NO, NO, NO. LIKE THIS!
Whack, whack, whack! Mrs. Gary had broken several pencils before
he drew an eight.
“Well, I am just requesting you stay away from Santa discussions
then. These children don’t really need to hear that the climate in the
North Pole is too harsh for Santa and his elves,” he continued gingerly.
Mrs. Worthington raised her pencil like a jousting pole.
“Mr. Kronenfeldt, nobody tells me how to teach. I will teach as I
see fit, and if you have a problem with that, then I suggest you take it
up with the principal. I knew I would get one of you parents coming
in here whining about Santa Claus.”
George felt his face turning red, watching the pencil in her hand.
“Whining about Santa Claus?”
“That’s right. Every year it’s the same thing. I get some bleeding
heart parent who thinks I have damaged their child.” Mrs. Worthington
beat the pencil in her hand. “Life is hard, Mr. Kronenfeldt, and it
is getting harder. The last thing these children need are more myths.”
George laughed lightly.
“Ah … well with all due respect, Mrs. Worthington, that is not
for you to decide.”
Mrs. Worthington stood up in her floral dress with the pencil in
her right hand. She batted the pencil toward George like a piston.
“This conversation is over. Please leave my classroom.”
George stared at her.
You going to hit me with that pencil?”
“Weren’t you ever a little girl, Mrs. Worthington?”
“Goodbye, Mr. Kronenfeldt.”
George stared at her.
“You were never a little girl who believed in Santa?”
Mrs. Worthington shook her head.
“We did not have myths in the home I grew up in!”
“What … were you raised in a Conestoga wagon by nuns?”
“Goodbye, Mr. Kronenfeldt!”
“Look, just leave Santa Claus out of the classroom. Okay? And
there will be no problem.”
Mrs. Worthington’s eyes narrowed, the pencil probing toward
“Are you threatening me, Mr. Kronenfeldt?”
George grabbed the pencil from her hand and snapped it, throwing
the two pieces on her desk. He leaned in close to the old teacher
staring at him like a rapist.
“Don’t friggin’ mess with Santa.”
Real Santa...Sometimes you have to go for it.
STARRED REVIEW BOOKLIST
"If somebody doesn't make a movie out of this book, there's something wrong with the world. This could have been played as an out-and-out slapstick comedy, but instead the author approaches the story like a character study: a portrait of a man with the best intentions in the world watching those intentions collide with reality. It's a steamroller of a story, starting small, with George's idea, and getting bigger and bigger as George tries to put the elements together, as his obsession takes him further and further away from reality. Beautifully done."
David Pitts Booklist
"The author marries the everyday dramas found in the novels of Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby to the high camp of Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry. Adults looking for a funny holiday-themed tale that doesn't lose its sense of wonder in the face of realism will find a treat here. A lovingly crafted comedy about the madness that fatherhood inspires."
Best-selling author Hazelgrove (e.g., Ripples; Tobacco Sticks) captures the human need to believe in something good. This book will satisfy readers looking for a happy Christmas story.-- Library Journal
"Hazelgrove's lively improbable narrative will appeal to the readers in the mood for holiday fiction."