Charlie and Isaac were at the grocery store early one morning, buying the last of the things they’d need for their camping trip. “What’s next on the list?” Isaac asked.
Charlie ran a finger down the list and stopped. “Apples.”
Isaac turned the cart around. “Those are back this way. Follow me.”
Charlie stopped just before they reached the apples. “Can we get oranges too?”
“Sure, pick out a couple.” Isaac held a bag open for Charlie, and Charlie picked out three oranges.
“We can eat them with breakfast.”
“Great idea,” Isaac said. Charlie grinned.
And then, an older man walked over, holding out a small wooden toy car. He was smiling a friendly, happy smile, and he had a white mustache and beard. He looked a bit like Santa Claus, if Santa wore plaid shirts and jeans. “Would you like this toy car I made?”
Behind him, a lady with short, curly gray hair was waiting by a shopping cart. She smiled encouragingly at Charlie. “He made it himself,” she said.
“But…” Charlie looked up at Isaac.
“It’s all right,” Isaac said.
Charlie took the car. It was well-made. The edges were rounded and smoothed, and the wooden wheels were secure. “Thank you.”
Isaac smiled at Charlie, then at the nice man. “Thank you. That was very nice of you. You do lovely work.”
“Oh, it’s just a hobby,” the man said. Then he and the lady left to do their shopping.
Charlie crossed off the apples. “Marshmallows are next.” So, off they went. On the way, Charlie looked at the little car. “I think it’s supposed to be for little kids. I don’t play with cars much any more.”
“There aren’t a lot of kids in the store today,” Isaac said.
“Yeah. I guess I was the littlest kid he could find,” Charlie said. He ran the little car along the side of the cart. It made a rattling sound as it ran over the metal bars of the basket.
They saw the man once more and waved, but soon after they were done shopping and ready to buy their groceries. Charlie put the toy car in one of the shopping bags they carried out to the car. They drove home and finished packing for their trip. They forgot about the toy car.
Marianne put the shopping bags straight into the cooler along with the rest of the camp food. “We need to leave now so that we have time to set up our tent before dinner. We’ll eat lunch on the way,” she said. “Is everything else ready?”
Charlie held up his backpack. “I even have extra batteries for my flashlight.”
Isaac smiled. “I’m glad you’re so prepared.” He looked over at Marianne and smiled at her too. “Everything else is out in the car.” And so they put the cooler in the car and left for the campsite.
It didn’t take all that long to set up their tent. Isaac had a lot of practice, and Charlie was a good helper. Marianne got a fire started while they worked on the tent. Soon enough, the tent was ready and Charlie and Isaac were unloading the car and setting up the inside of the tent.
Marianne was pulling dinner off the coals at the edge of the fire just as Charlie and Isaac set out the camp chairs. “All done?” she asked.
Isaac unfolded the last chair and set it next to the others. “Yes. Do you need any help?”
“No, dinner’s ready. Get your plates.” Marianne served up dinner and they sat by the fire and ate as they watched the flicker of the flames.
When they were cleaning up, Marianne handed Charlie the toy car. “Was this yours? It was in the shopping bag.”
“Someone gave it to me at the store,” Charlie said.
Just then, they heard crying nearby. They paused and listened. “Someone must be camping at one of the spots nearby,” Marianne said. They waited and listened. The crying didn’t stop.
“Maybe we can go see if they need any help,” Isaac said.
Charlie nodded. “I’ll come too. If it’s a little kid crying, I can give them the toy car.”
“Go ahead,” Marianne said. “I’ll finish up here.”
Charlie and Isaac followed the crying sound. Nearby, a young couple was struggling to put up a tent. A toddler stood in a playpen next to them, sobbing.
“Do you need any help?” Charlie asked. “My dad is the best at putting up tents.”
The couple looked at each other. “That would be nice,” the woman said. “I don’t think we’re doing this quite right.”
Isaac smiled. “I’m happy to help.”
Charlie held up the toy car. “Can I give this to the baby? I’m too big to play with it.”
The man smiled. “That’s very nice of you. I think she’d like it.”
Charlie held out the car, and the baby snatched it and stopped crying. Charlie laughed and told the baby all about camping while the grown-ups took care of the tent. It didn’t take long. Isaac helped them get their fire started too.
When they left, everyone was smiling. “I’m glad that man gave me the toy car,” Charlie said. “The baby really liked it. It’s nice to help people.”
“He looked a lot like Santa Claus,” Isaac said. “So I guess that makes us Santa’s elves, helping him give toys to children who need them.”
“I thought Santa gave out the toys, not the elves,” Charlie said. “But maybe not. Elves and nice people helping out makes more sense. There are a lot of little boys and girls in the world. Do you think he really was Santa?”
“I don’t know. It’s not Christmas,” Isaac said.
“Maybe he’s just practicing to get ready for Christmas,” Charlie said.
And then they were back and Marianne had the marshmallows ready for roasting and they forgot about the toy car again. But the next day they saw the young couple and the baby and went on a little hike together and shared lunch.
And later they remembered and talked about the time they maybe really met Santa. “I think he gives out toys because it feels nice to help people. When we helped that family, everyone was happy. He helps a lot of people, so I think he’s happy a lot,” Charlie said.
“I think you’re right,” Isaac said.