This Christmas I got carried away with my hand-made gifting. Mom called and asked me: How are you going to knit three sweaters before Christmas? And she’s a super knitter/crocheter/sewer giver! Nine pair of PJs, seven hats, and three sweaters later, Loved-One exclaimed, “You really are working your fingers to the bone!”
It must be all the cancelation that made me do it. COVID-19 sure has wreaked havoc on what I have come to expect at this time of the year. Until last night, we didn’t even have snow.
All this made me think of one of my favorite childhood memories. One where everything seemed to go wrong. Maybe 2020 will leave behind memories that we look back on with appreciation, if not fondness.
For my loyal readers, yes, this is a repeat story. But wait, isn’t that true of all the best Christmas stories?
Just like any little girl, I could hardly wait for Christmas. I studied the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Wards catalogs daily and made up my list for Santa. The things I wanted could fill Santa’s sleigh up all by itself, so I knew only some of the gifts I asked for would arrive. I marked a star by the most important ones: A cowboy hat and a derringer just like Bat Masterson’s on Have Gun Will Travel.
I prayed for snow, ’cause how was Santa going to get to my house without snow? The grey clouds only spilled down raindrops and the heavy frost in the morning would never do. I knew, ’cause when I took my sled out on the frost, Mom yelled at me, “That’s going to dull the blades. Take your sled back in the garage.” I dragged my sled back over the grass and down the little sidewalk to the garage.
“Good Lord, that sets my teeth on edge,” Mom said covering up her ears. How could a sound hurt her teeth? I thought, Guess that’s what happens when you get old.
I was probably selfish praying for snow, ’cause I just wanted Santa to come. Anyways, it didn’t snow; it just got warmer, until not even frost was on the ground. Mud was everywhere.
“When I was a little girl, Grandpa told me Santa came to houses alphabetically, and our house was last because our last name was Zyber,” Mom told me. “That’s why some years there were just a couple of toys left in Santa’s bag.”
Holy Makerel! At least my last name started with C. There I was being selfish again. All that selfishness might land me on the naughty list.
In bed at night, I heard Mom’s sewing machine whirring away like mad. In the morning, everything was closed up tight, the sewing machine tucked down into the cabinet and not a thread in sight. Hmm… that was super-strange.
Christmas Eve, Deanna, Bonita, and I got the biggest knee-high stocking we could find out of the odd-sock bag and hung them over a chair. Santa came in the keyhole at our house, ’cause we didn’t have a fireplace and the chimney landed Santa in the furnace with no way out. Mom wanted a fireplace like nobody’s business, ’cause she said our house was the draftiest thing she ever lived in and when she died she was gonna be cremated ’cause then, at last, she would be warm.
Just like always, I got down on my knees and said my prayers out loud so Mom could check me. I was memorizing the Our Father ’cause I had to know that for First Confession along with all my sins; Our Fathers got assigned for penance after Confession scrubbed my soul clean. Catholics only said memorized prayers; we never made up prayers on our own, like they did over at my friend Betty’s house.
Up the stairs to bed, we went, ‘Slap the Bear’, just like always on the way up. That’s where somebody yells “slap the bear, everybody included,” and starts slapping the hind-end of the person in front of her. Only the first person in line had a slim chance of getting away, and of course, the last person who had nobody to slap at. Mom probably invented that game to get us up the stairs faster than blue-blazes.
We brushed our teeth, and climbed into bed. It was Bonita’s turn to sleep on the cot, so I cuddled up tight to Deanna to keep warm. “Get your hair out of my face,” she said. She hated my hair, so she drew a line down the middle of the bed with her hand, and told me to stay on my side.
“We forgot the cookies and milk,” Bonita sprung up like a jack-in-the-box, looked out the window, just in case Santa was out there on the lawn, like in that poem.
“Did you hear bells?” I said. Deanna, Bonita and I sneaked downstairs, quiet as mice. Santa was gonna pass right by our house, and without leaving one single present, not anything, if he saw us peaking. Mom and Dad just laid there on the couch watching The Tonight Show. How was Santa ever going to come with no cookies and parents not in bed? For Pete’s sake, already. Bonita started to cry.
Finally, finally, morning came: Pajamas, dresses, underwear, slacks, and shirts stacked like a tower with my name on top from Mrs. Claus, she sewed all the clothes; same for Bonita and Deanna. Just a few toys for Vickie and baby Loren. A stocking full of nuts and candy and an orange in the toe. I like the red candies shaped like raspberries the best, the ones that were hard outside with squirty syrup stuff inside, and Bonita liked the ones shaped like peanuts, so we traded.
No toys, not a one. Hmm… Maybe Santa didn’t like the cookies we left.
Wait a minute. Santa ate the cookies. On the empty plate sat a note:
Dear Girls, The reindeer had a hard time pulling my sleigh in all this mud. I tipped over, spilling all your toys. I must make a separate trip. Keep being good, I’ll be back. I promise. Love Santa.
Every night we left a plate of cookies and a glass of milk, and a carrot for Rudolf, just in case it was foggy the night Santa returned. Every morning the treats remained untouched.
At last, a few weeks after school got going again, when I almost forgot all about Christmas, Santa came. Just like he promised.
I walked up the driveway and even before I opened the door, I saw all the toys through the window. Toys everywhere; a room full of toys. The most memorable toy that year was for not even for me. There, filling up a whole kitchen chair sat a doll as big as Deanna, with blond yarn hair and button eyes. She had elastic straps on the bottom of her feet. Mom showed Deanna how to strap her feet to the doll’s and away the two of them danced. Maybe now Deanna would forgive me for cracking her Tiny Tears skull right down the middle. Yes, a Bat Masterson deringer arrived for me, and a holster and six-gun for Bonita. Now if only summer would get here.
Another note from Santa sat on the empty cookie plate:
Dear Little Girls, A promise is a promise. You can depend on that. Love Santa.
At times we adults get so caught up in getting kids exactly what they want, and making sure everything is fair, and getting kids enough, that they forget the magic of the season. Santa always comes through, even when the catalog stores fail us and the budget is tight. And a few toys can certainly look like a room full if you just look at it through the eyes of a child.
I wish I could still find those raspberry candies.