The hundreds of hours I wasted thinking about Santa Claus; where he lived, was he happy, did Mrs. Claus make him hot cocoa and cookies, do his deer have a lovely barn, how do they fly, did he get my letter, was I on the nice or naughty list, are his Elves watching me?
My life was consumed by Santa from 4 years old until I turned 9. I was a true believer, a young pilgrim to the point of becoming a child Santa Evangelist. Anyone says something terrible about Santa, it was put up your dukes time or a come to Santa prayer meeting. My younger sister was also a firm believer, but then, she was brainwashed by me, and I was programmed by my parents, grandparents, and the rest of the fam damnly.
On Thanksgiving Day, the trickery commenced around our household. First, my mother, the master of deceit, would warn us about the naughty list and what would happen if we were on it. Then it was, ” the Elves are watching you through the windows to see if you’re good.” That’s the one that got to me the most. I had a plan to catch them.
After lights out, I slinked out of bed under cover of my darkened room. Crawling on my belly like a soldier, I made my way to the nearest window. Back against the wall, I slid up and moved the blinds in a flash, hoping to catch the little guys. I never saw one spying on me, but I knew they were there and faster on the draw. Santa and his gang were tricky.
The annual Christmas visit to Leonard Brothers Department Store in downtown Fort Worth was the ultimate Santa experience. Toyland was akin to holiday Nirvana for us kids. A rocket ship monorail glided around the basement ceiling, kids packed in like sardines on a rocket train to nowhere. Parents rush to purchase presents while the kids are busy, hiding them under their coats or in bags and lying to their innocent children with straight parental faces.
Santa held his court in the middle of Toyland. His throne was 10 ft. off the ground, with stairs leading up and then down. A majestic sight if there ever was one. Sitting in a velvet chair fit for a king while his Elfin helpers lifted the crumb crunchers on and off of his lap, it was pure excellence. A line of snot-nosed kids snaked around the room, waiting for their chance to place their order, up the stairs, on the lap for 15 seconds, then off the lap, and down the stairs. The visit was over before you knew what had happened. It was the same routine for years, and I loved it. I could spit out my order in under 10 seconds. Santa and his helpers were impressed.
I asked Santa for a bicycle when I was 9 years old. A red and white machine with side mirrors, streamers, a headlight, and white-side-wall balloon tires. I also asked for a new BB Gun, a larger Cub Scout knife, and a Fanner 50 cap pistol with green stick-um caps. My sister asked him for a doll that was larger than she was and a dollhouse.
Christmas Eve arrived, bedtime rolled around, and we hit the sack. Hot Ovaltine and cookies put me out like a light. Then, sometime after midnight or later, I had to pee. I didn’t want to get up, but the Ovaltine was causing me some discomfort. Half asleep, shuffling down the hallway, I looked into the living room as I passed the doorway. With a Schlitz beer in his hand, my father was sitting by the tree, assembling a red bike like the one I was expecting. My mother was working on a cardboard dollhouse, and the giant doll my sister wanted was standing under the tree looking creepy.
I convinced myself that Santa must have run out of time and had recruited my parents to complete his work. The reality of the sight was not an option.
My father looked up and saw me standing there; our eyes met, and he smiled like a raccoon caught in a trash can. The jig was up. The big lie was exposed, and my childhood imploded right there in the hallway. Daddy was Santa, and mom was Mrs. Claus. I peed and made my way back to bed, not comprehending what I had witnessed.
I awakened at daybreak, our usual Christmas morning routine. I was thankful to be awake and away from the nightmare that had gripped me most of the night. I was relieved that it was all caused by the Ovaltine. The gifts were under the tree, and life was good. I loved the bike and the BB Gun, but my sister was afraid of the enormous lifelike doll.
After breakfast, I was lying under the Christmas tree building an army fort with my plastic soldiers. That’s when I found a Schlitz beer bottle, assembly instructions for a bike, and a few tools.
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