Excerpts from the book: Santa’s Secret: A Story of Hope
A Kansas City Miracle
Fear gripped Kris Miller as he reached for the telephone Christmas Eve morning. He prayed the police could help him.
His wife and two stepsons were stranded at the Greyhound bus terminal in Kansas City, waiting on a connecting bus to Fort Smith, Arkansas. It wouldn’t arrive until well after dark -- more than 12 hours after Cimeri and the road-weary children had disembarked there.
That’s not what worried Kris, though.
Strangers trolling that far-away building had talked the 25-year-old Cimeri into doing something crazy. Stuck in California, half a continent away, Kris felt powerless to protect her.
Just minutes earlier, he’d been talking to her as she stood at a bank of pay phones overlooking the bus bay. Though they had argued days earlier, they now ached to be with each other. Tears streaked Cimeri’s cheeks. They had no money for return tickets after she and the boys visited her dad for Christmas. How would they get home?
Blake, her 2-year-old, sat quietly in a stroller beside her. Zachary, her 4-year-old, played an arcade game in the corner. About a dozen other travelers sprawled on terminal benches. Two employees took orders behind the concessions counter while others worked the ticket booth across the lobby.
The group of strangers entered. After briefly wandering past other bus riders, stopping to chat with a few, they walked toward Cimeri and huddled around her. The tallest stranger, a plump man clad in white overalls and a red flannel shirt, spoke briefly and waved money before her, urging, "Put the phone down for a minute."
He towered over the petite Cimeri. Bewildered, she slowly lowered the receiver and looked into his blue eyes. What did he want?
At the other end of the phone, Kris strained to hear. He yelled for Cimeri to pick up the receiver, but she didn’t respond.
A minute or two passed. Kris stewed. Finally, Cimeri’s voice returned.
"Santa Claus just came and gave me $500," she said. "I’ll have to call you right back."
.................Santa looked up and down the street then dashed to the bridge, dropped the evidence and ran back to his friend.
They walked a few blocks to a cotton gin, where they stashed some of the money. They pocketed the rest and headed for the pool hall, one of Santa’s favorite places. He could play for hours. They hadn’t been there long when the door swung open and law enforcement officers entered. With steely eyes, they stared at Santa. His muscles tensed. He looked away and swallowed.
Uh, oh, he thought. This looks like trouble.
The officers corralled the boys, escorted them outside and began an interrogation.
"If you don’t tell us the truth," one said, "then we are going to put you in reform school."
Santa’s friend glared back at them.
"I don’t know what you are talking about," he told the officers. "You can’t prove it."
Butterflies circled in Santa’s stomach. His heart pounded. He knew what reform school meant and wanted no part of it.
An unusual offer over the telephone caught Santa by surprise.
"Are you willing to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s show?" the caller from Chicago asked.
Like Santa, Oprah grew up poor in Mississippi, earned success and enjoyed giving back by helping others. Santa thought the world of Oprah.
Appear on her show? A lump formed in his throat. How could he be interviewed on national television without someone recognizing him? He feared that if his identity were revealed, he wouldn’t be able to spread Christmas cheer as Secret Santa anymore. It wouldn’t be safe, for one thing. Knowing that Santa carried lots of money, some people would be tempted to rob him. If his name got out, people would come to his home and his business demanding money. They might go after his wife or his children.
Besides, he didn’t give away money to gain recognition. He did it to fulfill a promise he’d made 24 years earlier, in 1971.
Was the thrill of meeting Oprah worth the risk of being revealed?
After pondering the situation, Santa decided a disguise might allow him to take part while still protecting his identity. He owned a fake white beard and mop of matching fake hair. They could hide much of his face.
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