The snow fell like feathers after a pillow fight. Single flakes rested gently on his already-white beard, giving it a sparkle matched only by the twinkle in his eye.

He wasn't so much a Santa lookalike as a worldly wise man.

I met him outside the senior residence where I volunteer. I was naturally drawn to him, since I am curious about older folks who appear to have traveled a long, hard road and have something to teach me.

He did not disappoint me. They rarely do.

"Isn't it a perfect day?" he asked.

"If you're a snowman," I replied.

The corner of his mouth turned upward slightly, acknowledging my attempt at humor.

"So what makes it so perfect?" I asked.

"I'm here in the first falling snow of the season with my friends, and although I may appear to be frozen in place, I am warm indeed," he replied.

I looked around and couldn't see anyone else. It left me wondering about his "friends."

"Where are they?" I asked. "The friends you mentioned..."

Raising his right hand he tapped his temple and then pointed to his heart. "Preserved in my memory and held in my heart," he said simply.

"That's where many of my friends reside these days, too," I said. "All too many are gone now."

It didn't take long for me to connect with my newfound friend. I have been moody and melancholy lately, a sure sign for me of the approaching holiday season. It's a mixture of my own memories of family gone and a deep sadness for so many people who are hurting because it is the first holiday without a loved one. I'm guessing he may have been reflecting on the past as well.

"They come back, you know," he said.

"Old friends?"

"Family, too. They come back around the holidays just when you need them."

I felt like he was kindred spirit as I listened to him speak.

"You don't have to convince me, my friend." Then turning toward him, I placed my hand on his shoulder and said, "May I share something amazing that happened to me recently?"

"It's all connected..."

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  • "Certainly," he replied.

    "Well," I started, "we are having an addition built on our home. The existing room needs to be torn down so we have been removing everything in it.

    "I had a calendar hanging there that was produced as a fundraiser for children's cancer research. Ashley, the young girl who spearheaded the group, was the child of a friend of mine. She died shortly afterwards.

    "When I took it off the wall that day, I scanned through it seeing once again the many faces of innocent kids, all victims of cancer. My own son had cancer at 18, so this was very close to my heart. Although the calendar was from 2002, I couldn't throw it away. I knew I had to hang it up again.

    "I brought it up to my office and when I sat down at my computer to check my messages, I received an email from a friend of Ashley's. She had read a story I wrote about Ashley a few years ago. What are the chances of that happening?"

    "It's all connected," he said.

    "Wait. There's something else," I continued. "Hanging on the wall of that same room were two letters addressed to a young man who also had cancer. He was the nephew of an old friend. I was writing to him to encourage his recovery, but he died before I could send them.

    "I was about to throw them away, but after all this time I opened them. Tears came to my eyes as I read the words that never reached him.

    "The next day I received an email from the friend whose nephew I'd been thinking of. I have not heard from her in many years. She just dropped me a note to say hello."

    "Remarkable!" the man said.

    We sat quietly for a moment.

    "They do come back," he repeated.

    "I believe they never leave as long as we hold them here and there," I said pointing to my head and heart. "Now, tell me about your friends," I said.

    He spent the next hour sharing stories of friends of long ago, and we visited with them awhile.

    I really wish it were all that easy. To think about someone and bring them back again. But I guess that man was right. They do come back.

    They were at home in my heart...home for the holidays.

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