The plane door opened, the elves cheered and a little girl in a bright white princess dress stepped out.
The cheering went on as she stood there at the top of the steps with bright eyes, a shy smile and cheeks the color of cranberries, and then Santa appeared.
Santa, yeah, on Christmas Eve — talk about a hard meeting to get. But this little girl, he wanted to meet.
Her name was Caroline Lopez. She’s 6 and she’d traveled all the way from Kansas City, Kan., to the North Pole.
Santa helped her down from the plane and the crowd of elves sang “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” but then Santa checked the time.
“Elves, you’ve done a wonderful job, but we have lots of work to do before sleigh time,” he bellowed.
And they scattered in their red and green suits to the mailroom, present wrapping counter, naughty and nice station, toy factory, candy land and reindeer stable. They worked in a frenzy and sang with all their hearts as Caroline took a tour.
Lights shone from more than 50 trees with presents piled high. In the stable, Caroline fed an animal cracker to a reindeer.
“Brownie, come here,” she said softly.
A stable elf told Caroline, “Not very many people get to do that.”
When the tour ended and Caroline was back on the plane, her mother called the North Pole visit a Christmas miracle.
“We don’t know how much more time we have left with Caroline,” Janna Lopez said through tears. “To see her smile like this after all the heartbreak … I’m so grateful and my heart goes out to all of you.”
Caroline, a first-grader, was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year. The trip north was arranged by the Elves of Christmas Present, a group whose mission “is to provide unique surprise Christmas gifts and experiences for children who are suffering from life-threatening illness and families that have experienced tragedy.”
More than 500 elves, all anonymous, ages 6 to 60-plus, helped make Caroline’s visit special.
The day began early with a visit from a Snowflake Princess who told Caroline that snowflakes she had mailed to Santa had won a contest, so she got to go see him at the North Pole.
They all left in a big limo — Caroline, her mom, two brothers and the princess. They went to Wheeler Downtown Airport and boarded a 10-passenger jet.
Flight time to the North Pole: About 15 minutes CMT (Christmas Magic Time).
“The plane’s landed! She’s here!” an elf exclaimed about 1:10 p.m.
If you ever wanted to know what a building looks like at Santa’s place, it looks a little like a hangar at Johnson County Executive Airport — just far cooler.
Caroline didn’t feel all that great Thursday. But she kept going and kept smiling, and when she got to the top of the steps to get back on the plane when it was all over, she turned and worked up a smile and waved to all the elves.
“Magic will happen tonight,” Santa told her. “Remember, Santa loves you always.”
The plane took off and the elves went back to work.
Like Santa said, lots of work left to do.
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182