Saturday, December 14, 2013


I was born at the end of the baby bust, so when I was little, for a time, before all those glad-to-be-alive Dad’s arrived home from the war, just to be a kid was special. My cousin and I lived in a pleasant rural Ohio town, which had been home to both our families since before the Depression. Mike’s parents lived just four blocks from me. His parents had a Cadillac, a hand-me-down from his grandparents, who were sufficiently well-to-do to buy a new car every two years. These better fixed in-laws liked to “do things up right.”  At Christmas, this meant hiring a Santa Claus.

Now, I’ve heard more about this Santa since I’ve grown up, but when I was a kid, I actually suspected he just might be the real deal. For one thing, I was quite small the first time I saw him, no more than four.

The night before Christmas I was getting the whole “you better watch out, you better not cry,” bit from my parents. There were canned peas for dinner, and I remember forcing those rubbery pills down, and hoping not to gag.

In those days, children went to bed before their parents—long before. Right after dinner, there was a story, a wash-up, and then straight to bed. Tonight, however, right in the middle of the story, I heard sleigh bells.

My parents wondered aloud "Who can that be?" I wanted to go look out the window, but was told to sit still. Daddy would open the door.

When he did, in came the most perfect Miracle on 34th Street kind of Santa.  He was chubby and had a long white beard—a real one--a round face, a bright red suit, black patent leather belt and tall boots. He was even carrying a sack. My father was grinning in a way which clearly meant I was being snookered, so after I croaked out a “Hello, Santa,” I gamely asked about his reindeer.

“Well, Darlin', they’re up on the roof—and you don’t have a proper chimney, Judy Lee, so just I knocked on the door.” Well, this seemed reasonable, because I knew our chimney ended up inside the scary big coal furnace in the cellar--obviously not a good place for anyone to land. From somewhere outside, I could hear sleigh bells, just every once in a while, as if the reindeer were tossing their heads.

 Suspicion somewhat allayed, I watched him take the seat my mother offered.  Dad picked me up and put me down on Santa’s knee. Santa was authentically cold all over, his clothes, his face, his beard, and he had a good vibe, smelling pleasantly, as men often did in those days, of whiskey. He was a polite, low-key Santa. His “ho-ho-ho” sounded as if he was actually chuckling about some private joke.

He asked me what I wanted most for Christmas, so I told him about the “drink-wet” baby doll I wanted. Outside the door, sleigh bells softly jingled. It was pretty amazing, to be sitting on Santa's knee there beside our lighted Christmas tree, with shiny packages piled beneath.

 Then he said “Merry Christmas, Judy Lee,” and said he’d be back later with my presents. As he left, there was a blast of cold and the sound of bells again. I still wanted to peep out the window, but my Dad caught my hand and said, “Hey, JL! What did you think of that?”

 “Was that really Santa?”

He and my mother looked at each other and tried not to smile.  So, even though “Seeing is believing,” I was left with a strong feeling that they had been trying to fool me. In a good way, of course, the way grown-ups did, pretending because they thought we children expected it.
 Although my Santa had been nice, jolly and convincingly bearded, I hadn’t seen him fly away.  I'd very much wanted to see the reindeer perform this feat, but it was pretty clear that I wasn’t supposed to watch him go. My cousin was even younger than I, so about all I learned from him the next day was that he too had had a visit from “Santa.” I decided this visitor might have been The Real Santa--but probably not. In retrospect, I believe the whole performance pleased my elders as much as it pleased me.  

"God Bless us, Every One..." 

~~Juliet Waldron

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