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Secret Santa

A Little Mystery Makes Christmas Magic

Santa checks his online network and gift delivery emporium.

Whoever sits beside her can count her lucky stars.

I could call her "Pam," but back at the North Pole, who knows what they call her? She did look a bit like Santa Claus -- the same ruby cheeks, the same rounded nose. Maybe she was his daughter or daughter-in-law. This story occurred a long time, ago, though, when her night gig kept her at her family's Mom and Pop store.

Still, when the question of Christmas gifts arose at the office where we both worked weekdays, she answered first for our team: "Yes, we gotta play Secret Santa, cuz somebody won't have a Christmas, unless we do!"

Pam sat there quietly as we made up our wish lists like little kids. I put colored pencils at the top of mine, tools to draw a picture of her when I had time. In perfect silence, she smiled like an angel caught on a holiday card -- a sublime face, rounded hands, a chuckle in the dimpled cheeks.

Before a week passed, the strangest events started happening. Mugs full of butterscotch candies turned up on the neatest desks. Workers would start to sit down and yip, "What the -- ?" Santa came and went; ventilators functioned as substitute chimneys!

Nobody saw him on the premises. A hundred secret passages led into and out of that building. No matter where he went, people knew neither hide nor hair of his rounds. You could've led the entire Russian army through our corporation, and no one would have admitted to a single sighting!

One day, a mouse turned up on my desk.

I asked Pam: "You know anything about this?"

My mouse specialized in cuteness. With a body one inch long, his nose lay buried in a peanut butter cup. Although made of wood, his teeth had chewed a tiny circle in the surrounding candy wrapper. Pam reiterated, "Nope" and "Nuthin" eleven times.

The day for the Big Gift exchange finally arrived. I did not have to pretend: Santa outfoxed me completely. I gave my Big Gift to somebody. Somebody had already left my pencils on my desk.

Now, everybody faced the moment of confession together: "All right, all Santas step forward!" Everybody hung back because we did not want the magic to end.

Then, Pam said: "You like them?"

She admitted playing dumb had been her most challenging assignment in over fifteen years in the corporate world. She never would reveal the exact burden it placed on a woman whose intelligence probably could set off seismographs. Her supreme gift lay in the ability to keep a secret, come hell or high water, pressure from colleagues, threats, bribes, or not-so-subtle hints.

Come to think of it, perfect management material!

If any gift defies choice, just remember this marvelous lady. She proved that nothing beats mystery. Anybody can play Santa, too. Why, troops of them make the game even better. The game, of course, requires lies and the most amiable face in the whole wide world. Look at that holiday card again: the one with the angel hovering like a star. There she beams forever, pencils and mice tales tucked neatly out of sight.

Meg Curtis