DEAR ABBY: A few years ago, at Christmas time, I helped Santa Claus by filling in for him at a small shopping mall. Instead of the usual long lines of children who are processed on and off Santa's lap like an assembly line in large shopping malls, I was able to enjoy spontaneous visits with teenagers and adults as well as tots bearing lists of toys.
A pair of teenage boys ran up, gave me a hug and a grin, and asked me to bring them motorcycles. After a brief chat, they walked away chuckling -- pleased with their visit with St. Nick.
A bright and happy 3 1/2-year-old girl sat on my lap and chattered constantly, asking questions and answering mine. Finally, she looked me in the eye and said, "I thought you were fake. You're REAL!" Her doubts removed, I'm sure she had a magical Christmas.
A young father, all alone, paid the elf photographer for one picture and said, "I don't have custody of my children, but want to show them a picture of you and me shaking hands." When he received the finished photo, he looked at it and mouthed, "Thank you," and departed.
However, my most emotional visit was with three teenage girls. The first one giggled and asked me for a sports car. The second topped her by asking for a mansion. The last girl whispered in my ear, "I'd like a job for my father." As they walked away, the last one refused to answer her friends' question, "What did YOU ask Santa for?" Her profound request was between her and Santa, who was overcome with emotion.
I truly believe that her father found a job because, you see, that night Santa prayed that he would. -- ROBERT BICKMEYER, TROY, MICH.
DEAR "ROBERT-CLAUS": Your letter touched my heart. Your prayer embodies the true spirit of Christmas, and I hope that you and your family are enjoying this special day. And to my Christian readers: A very merry Christmas to you all.