Someone I know once told her kids that Santa Claus was dead! Can you believe that? Now, this is the same person who didn’t allow costumes or trick or treating on Halloween because it was a celebration of “Devil’s Night.” Talk about killing kidhood! Halloween I can let slide because it has already been defiled by people inflicting their own evil-doings upon innocent little witches and goblins … but for me, the most magical memories I own have to do with strings of colored lights, a jolly old fellow in a fuzzy red suit, bright paper packages tied tightly with ribbon … with Christmas!
When I was in the neighborhood of four or five, I remember sneaking downstairs in the purple glow of morning’s first light for a peek under the tree. Even back then, it was apparent that Mom and Dad weren’t raising any stupid kids. One by one I would creep down the steps, keeping to the inside along the wall, where they were tighter and wouldn’t creek the way they did if someone stepped in the center! It was important not to wake my folks but critical not to come upon Santa should he still be lingering over the milk and cookies I had left him.
There they were, spread wall to wall in the living room … I could see the presents between those round white thingies that support the railing! The carrots for the reindeer were gone, as were Santa’s snacks and Santa himself. The coast was clear! The task now at hand was to read the tags on the gifts to see how many of them were for me. The light was still so dim that the handwriting was barely discernable. Still, if I really concentrated, I could usually pick out the letters “F-r-e-d” and ignore the rest. The tags that said “Freddy” were a bit tougher and hatched squadrons of butterflies in my stomach, as I went back to bed for a little finger math, and the endless wait until my folks woke up.
Santa survived intact for many Christmases, with many early morning adventures in the purple light, despite the slings and arrows of other kids who insisted that he didn’t exist. Some of their logic seemed impeccable. The pressure mounted until the time eventually came when, like most kids, I really knew I shouldn’t believe anymore but I was afraid not to … or maybe I just didn’t want to part with the warmth and the rush, the excitement and anticipation, that were probably the best presents the jolly old elf brought every Christmas … or, maybe, I didn’t want to part with the thing that so much made me a kid and have to admit that I was growing up.
My neighborhood had changed to twelve or thirteen (yes, I held out that long) and the thing I wanted most in the world was a Lionel Santa Fe diesel engine. As part of my plan to once and for all determine the truth about Santa Claus, I spread the word about the Santa Fe diesel far and wide, so even the chubby guy in the red suit had to put it on his list. Hopefully, he would check that list twice, like he was supposed to … just once, or not at all, would mean that my parents had played a part in this wonderful fairytale and it would have to take its place beside Chicken Little, Cinderella and The Three Little Pigs.
It was the day of Christmas Eve and my folks were going out to do some last minute shopping. It would be the perfect time for me to do some serious snooping. I scoured the house from top to bottom, attic to basement, looking in every conceivable place except one. Most Parents’ bedrooms are kind of holy places and off limits to kids. The chapel in our house was no exception but I had to know … so in I went! There didn’t seem to be anything very special about it, except that it had two closets instead of one. I carefully checked through drawers, behind drapes, even under the bed. Nothing. That left only the closets. The one on the left proved negative for anything but the usual shirts, pants, jackets, shoes and the old lamp Dad brought home the day Mom said something about someone’s dead body.
The one on the right was my last chance. If I didn’t find the diesel there, it had to be coming by reindeer and sleigh, tonight! The second closet seemed much like the first … except for the big, round hatbox on the top shelf. I got a chair to stand on, climbed up and pushed aside a few nondescript items, then moved the hat box. Behind it was a brown, oblong box that read “Lionel” on the side. My heart skipped a beat, the butterflies in my stomach began to dance and I could feel my face flush with a kind of embarrassment. It was exactly what I wanted but not really what I wanted to find! Hovering somewhere between rapture and tears, my trembling fingers pried open the flaps on one end of the box. A red and silver locomotive with a mechanical yellow smile stared straight into my face and said, “Santa Fe.”
The next year I discovered girls and the nature of Christmastime changed until I had my own kids … then it changed again. But I’m happy to report that through the intervening years, I rediscovered my belief in the jolly old fellow with the fuzzy red suit and even learned that growing up isn’t so bad after all, especially if you don’t let it happen all the way. Everything came together once I realized that my Dad wasn’t really the strongest guy on the block, Superman can’t actually fly and … I … am Santa Claus! Oh, and that person who told her kids Santa was dead? Even she believes now, too.
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