Some time ago I took a day, free from work, to visit a new mall that had opened up. Well, mall would not be the right description. It was one of those more contemporary commercial villages. This one was rather unique. It is called the Little Mountain Village, and was built on, around, and inside of Little Mountain. Little Mountain is just that, a small mountain amidst the low soft hills of the area. Though only 1000 feet tall it is still the highest point for about a 200-mile radius.
I parked in one of the many scattered parking areas. The view was wonderful. A wooded mountain rose before me. An underslung monorail climbed gently toward the mountain’s peak. Little shops were scattered about, all designed to blend well with the natural surroundings. As I looked up the mountain, I could see some shops and restaurants perched on its side, some jutting out on great beams. I am sure the views from their windows were spectacular.
My goal for the day was to take in some of the shops, but mostly to simply enjoy the day and to perhaps find some new reading material. I had high hopes that such a new and unique shopping cluster might offer something more than the conventional national bookstore chains. However, my more immediate goal was to get something to eat.
I was not interested in any of the more elegant restaurants atop the mountain. I did not want to spend that kind of money or time simply eating. I decided to enter the mountain and find the food court. Once inside I examined a map kiosk and identified several different food courts on several levels within the primary mall structure. As I examined the map looking for quick food, I also looked for bookstores. Alas, all I could see where the sort of bookstores one would find in any typical mall. I was feeling a bit disappointed at that, but went on to solve the rumblings of my stomach.
There is a central elevator that runs vertically through the mountain, from foot to peak. I elected to ride the elevator to a floor near the top and a food court there. The elevator was glass walled and spacious. Its course provided spectacular views of the mall floors and even the heart of the mountain itself. Rock and stone along with artfully crafted beams and braces created an almost magical ride. I reached one of the top most levels, exited the elevator and headed to the food court. The mountain’s top had been carved into, and opened at spots to the outside world as the mall floor wound its way through. Never before had fast food eateries enjoyed such sceneries.
After a simple, quick meal, I decided to continue to explore the shop village as I concentrated on finding something new to read. Though I had been disappointed by the kiosk map, I felt certain there must be some unique shop within this small town of stores. I spied an information booth near the elevator shaft.
The information booth sold little nick-knacks and other souvenirs of the Little Mountain Village. Behind the counter was an attractive young lady. I asked her about bookstores. She touched a button on a console and a map of the Little Mountain Village lit up indicating the various shops I had already identified on the kiosk down below. I said, “Thanks. I was hoping for something a little more unique. You know, not the same old shops I could go to anywhere.” The lady said, “I know. I’m sorry. There are some great shops here though.” I smiled and turned to leave.
The attendant then said, “I’ve heard there is some shop outside, on the mountain. The guy is sort of an antique collector. I’ve heard he keeps books.” I asked, “Do you know where it is?” She replied, “No. It isn’t one of the official stores. I’ve just heard some rumors. When the village was planned, not all of the locals sold out. Some still have their homes and shops around Little Mountain.” I thanked her again. I decided to take the elevator to its exit at the top of the mountain. From there I would wander the paths downward toward the parking lots. Perhaps I would find something interesting on the mountain’s exterior.
The scenery was breathtaking. The sun was bright and warm. There was a host of paths. Some broad, made of concrete, for those who wanted a more civilized feel. But there were also narrow, well-maintained hiking and biking trails. The air was crisp, the birds in full throat. Despite my disappointment in not finding a unique bookstore, I enjoyed my walk down the mountain’s slopes.
If it had not been for their bright voices and laughter, I would not have noticed them. To my left, down a slope and huddled in the wood, was a cottage. The patch of land about the bungalow was well groomed. Puttering around in the garden was an elderly couple. She was short and rotund, with hair as silver as a polished serving fork and neatly tucked in a bun. Her voice was light, warm, and conveyed inner peace. He was rotund as well, but tall, being six feet or more. His hair was white as porcelain. It was short above his ears, collar length in back, and missing on top. His beard was equally white, carefully trimmed and combed into a neat curve encapsulating his chin. I shouted down to them, “Excuse me. I’m looking for a collector that keeps books. Do you know whom I’m talking about?”
They both stopped from their gardening and looked up at me with bright smiles. “Why yes,” she replied. “You’ve found him. Come on down if you wish.”
I wandered down the slope, through some brambles and through their garden, stuck out my hand and introduced myself. He smiled as he firmly gripped my hand and said, “I do not have a lot of books, but you are welcome to look at what I have. They are in my shop. This way.” His smile and manner clearly indicated that he was content with life.
As he led me along the path to his shop, I thanked him for taking time out of his day. We arrived at the door of what looked like a large garage or barn. When he opened the door, we were immediately greeted with the pleasant musty, oily and sawdust aroma of a well-kept workshop. It was very dim inside. To the left of the door was a careful arrangement of fireplace irons, grates and pokers, all neatly organized and in good condition. Recently reworked was my guess. To the right was an organization of wood, planks, sheets, and moldings, a virtual warehouse of wood working needs. “I keep my books in the back,” he said as he led the way.
The man was more than a craftsman. He was an organizer. We passed rows of planter pots arranged by type, shape, size and color. We passed work benches and tools, all clean and ordered. Ahead of us was an archway beyond which brighter lighting could be seen. Stepping through we entered a room much larger than I believed the workshop had been from the outside. The room was clean and bright and filled with rows upon rows of shelves. On the shelves, much to my surprise, were toys. All sorts of toys, all in good shape and neatly arranged. The old man was indeed a collector, the type of person who likes to snap up, restore and keep odd items. I had great hopes for the old man’s library, despite his warning of a small stock.
His selection of collectibles was quite amazing: tricycles, wagons, gyroscope, baseball gloves and collector’s cards. Everything restored, packaged like new and organized. A flash of red caught my eye. There to my right were eight red pedal cars, each large enough for a young child to get into. No dents in their metal, no rust on their paint. “Wow,” I said. “I use to have a pedal car just like those, except mine was blue. If you had a blue one, I just might have to talk you out of it.” He smiled knowingly. Then to my left I noticed a line of Roadmaster bikes. “I had one of those too. If I had a way to get it home, I would have to buy one from you for my daughter.” “Perhaps we can work something out,” he said with a grin.
We continued to weave our way through his shop. It struck me that most of the toys he had collected were items from my childhood. I say “my childhood,” but doubtless these things figure well into the pasts of most of us. It seemed everything I had ever encountered as a child was here, rebuilt and preserved. Wheel-o’s, toy rockets and astronauts. Etch-a-sketches, Spiro-graphs and cowboy hats. A row of hobby horses, one of which was just like the one I had, white with brown and black spots in running stance suspended by springs on a metal frame. And there were items I remember seeing my sister play fondly with, Barbie, her friends and her many supplements. Shrinking Violet and other talking dolls, plastic tea sets, and candy-filled nurse and doctor bags.
As we progressed through this toy land, the items progressed as well, from items of small children to those of young boys and girls. Vacu-Form and ten-speed bikes. Roller and ice skates, trampolines, trains and racing car sets. Water rockets, hobby planes and telescopes. Porcelain dolls, Easy-Bake ovens and glass-china tea sets. All neatly arranged in collectors’ fashion. Yet nowhere had I seen a single book. But the elderly gentleman led me onward, giving me hope.
It was then I became aware of the selection of his collection. I had not seen any toys of violence – no BB guns or G.I. Joes, no sling shots or Rock’em-Sock’em Robots. It seemed he collected only those toys of passive enjoyment.
Moving deeper into his shop, the articles continued to advance. The layout of the shop was as ordered as the individual shelves. The items became the wonderful collectibles you often find yourself wanting, but never seem to get around to buying for yourself. Those unusual things chanced upon by luck or gift that find a special place in your home. Beautiful book ends, clocks, wall sconces, old dolls and figurines, little statues and other wall hangings. Those fancy, pleasant things that turn worn houses into warm homes.
The back wall of this wonderful room was lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. These shelves were filled with candle sticks and figurines of wood, ceramic, porcelain, cut crystal, brass, or silver. We had come to the end of a room filled to overflowing and still I had not seen a single book.
In the midst of this wall of candle sticks and splendor was a door which he opened and led me through. We entered a small room not much bigger than a walk-in closet. This room was also lined with shelves and at last these were filled with books. The collection was fascinating. Rare, old or odd seemed to be the rule. It was indeed an interesting assortment, but too small of a collection for me to be really choosey. I looked over the books quietly and noted those of interest. Unfortunately there was nothing that I really wanted at the time. Considering the grandeur of the room we had just left, this room left me disappointed. Finally I thanked the old man for his time and for the look at his marvelous shop. “It is strange though,” I added. “You have a reputation as a keeper of books, but your craftsmanship and collection of toys and items are so superior to your library.”
“You do not understand, my friend,” he said with a smile. “I am a bookkeeper more than anything else in life. Let me show you.” He opened a door at the back end of his book room and stepped through. This was an even smaller room, dimly lit and almost barren of furnishings, a complete change from his workshop, display room, or even the small book room. In fact, with the exception of two book stands and one chair, it was not furnished at all. On each of the book stands rested a single book. These two books were so large and so thick that either one of them made the O.E.D. look like a paperback novella. He walked over to one of the books, opened it and let the pages flip past his thumb. He stopped the ruffling sheets and opened the book fully, seemingly at a randomly selected spot. He placed a finger of his left hand on the left margin of the left leaf, approximately in the middle of the page. With his right hand he motioned me to look.
The left margin of the book was an alphabetical list of names. To the right of the names were columns organized by years. There, just above his pointing finger, in a small, deliberate, neat hand script was my name. In each year column across from my name was the name or description of one toy, one item for each year of my life. Special toys or things that had built warm memories. Items that were always with me even years after they had been lost or accidently broken. It was then I realized they were all items I had received as Christmas gifts in the years indicated.
I remember when I was five. The neighborhood bully had informed me with great vigor that Santa Claus was not real and that Mom and Dad were really the jolly man in the red suit. Like all children when they learn this, I was crushed. I wanted then to believe in Saint Nicholas. Even as an adult I wanted to believe in good old Saint Nick. Over the years I had come to believe that the good times and warm feelings of the Yuletide season had to be caused by something special, and were not just the result of a change in weather, the arrival of the Winter Solstice or an annual office party. I had come to believe that Father Christmas was real, in feeling if not in fact.
But the neighborhood bully had made it painfully clear that the myths of Santa Claus could not be true. I suppose an ultra longevity, even immortality might someday be a possibility. But a person cannot hop aboard a reindeer driven sleigh and orbit the globe in a twenty-four-hour period once each year. Nor is it possible to pop down chimneys or walk through walls with sacks of toys for the billions of people on the Earth.
However, I had just seen an amazing workshop filled with toys for girls and boys, young and old. But a well stocked, a well-ordered workshop does not make a person Santa Claus. Yet how had this quaint old gentleman managed to get my name in this book along with a list of all my favorite Christmas gifts? Was it some trick? A game, like at Notts Berry Farm or Six Flags, where a parent sneaks off and gives a puppeteer information about their children so the youngsters can be amazed when the puppet addresses them by name? No, that could not be. What purpose would it serve to play such a game without charging for a ticket? Where were the lines of other people visiting the Little Mountain Village waiting to have the same wool pulled over their eyes?
I had always marveled at my parents uncanny ability to find just the right gift each Christmas. Oh, there were always lots of toys, but always there was one special item, some big or little something that made Christmas magical. Even after my parents stopped being the major gift givers, there always managed to be some special quality to that time of year. Luck at finding my daughter just the right toy. The charm of pleasing my closest friends, or their amazing knack of finding perfect items for me. Every year without fail it seems my gentle dreams get filled.
It then occurred to me, perhaps a Saint Nick in these modern times would not have to visit every home. He would not have to ride a sleigh or even work only within a twenty-four-hour period. Santa Claus has one job, to help us make Christmas be the magical time we wish it to be. If he knows what we want and keeps his lists, as the old stories go, perhaps delivery would be more a matter of seeing that the right store is stocked with the right item. Mom and Dad cannot buy what they cannot find. Those odd items stumbled across while you painfully look for something for that special someone who has everything, or those times you cannot think of a single thing but then you chance upon the perfect gift. Could it be Santa Claus that provides these moments of magic? Perhaps he just makes sure the right thing is in the right place at the right time, on December 24th or sometime in August, in a custom emporium or a local convenience store, it would not matter when or where so long as you are there and looking ahead to Christmas.
As these revelations unfolded in my mind, I studied the old man. My emotional bias made me to want to believe I was standing next to Father Christmas himself, while my logical, conditioned mind searched for some other explanation. It seemed that he knew everything I thought and felt. He offered no discussion of the details, but just smiled and nodded his head in affirmation. “But why have you shown me this?” I asked. “You must need to keep all this a secret.”
“In general, yes I do. But I must also keep the spirit alive. Each year I allow a few people to know the truth, certain people with a strong desire to believe. I realize it is a little early, but I could think of no better gift for you this year.” Raising both his arms as if to highlight all that was around us as well as displaying himself fully, and said in a deep, warm, soft voice, “Merry Christmas,” and gave me a firm embrace.
Even though I left the Little Mountain Village without new reading material, it should be clear that my visit was an adventure I will never forget. As I told you at the outset, I was sworn to a certain amount of secrecy, and I heartily agreed. I told him I would have to tell at least part of my story, and he said he expected nothing less. So I have had to keep his location vague. It would not do to have Father Christmas swamped with visitors and press. He would not have time to keep his books and Christmas would never be the same. But just remember when you chance upon that perfect item, or receive that special gift, or even just catch the Yuletide feeling, it may not be pure luck.