Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It really is magic!

There was no child on earth who believed in Santa more than I. Despite glaring contradictions in terms of logic and logistics, the magic won. Every time. After all, there had to be a Santa. Just look at the evidence. Every December 25th, were there not brightly wrapped gifts under the tree? Were there not hundreds of poems and stories and movies and tales of Santa, his elves, his reindeer, even his wife? No one I encountered ever denied his existence, and everyone I encountered confirmed it.

In the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, I wouldn't sleep, couldn't. Not until I knew he'd come. After the house was quiet, I'd climb down from the top bunk, being careful not to wake my sister (if she ever made a clandestine trip to the Christmas tree in the dark, I never knew about it). Our house was very small . . . it wasn't a long journey out my bedroom door, onto the back porch, then in through the kitchen door and five steps later, into the living room. All was dark. Our rented house was set behind another house, so there were no streetlamps to illuminate the room. But I didn't need light.

In the vague and dull darkness, the tinsel on the tree glittered and sparkled just enough to draw me across the room. My mother was big on tinsel (back in the day when it was made of real metal), and she applied it with grace and beauty, one strand at time until the little tree shimmered. I'd pad toward the tree, slowly, so as not to trip over anything that might be in my way, like a huge package containing delights only my very young mind could conjure.

Crouching, I felt around until my fingers met the square edge of a present. He'd come! Santa had come! The jolt of excitement that shot though my system contained enough of a charge to light an entire city for a year. Though I couldn't see anything, I could feel, and in the chilly dark, my fingers let my imagination create the most wonderful gifts any child could want.

Even so, excited as I was, there was that tiny hint of disappointment that Santa obviously hadn't brought me the thing my heart desired more than anything in the world, but then, even I, with my wild imagination, couldn't conceive of how he'd get a sorrel horse with a white blaze down her nose and four white stockings into his sleigh, not to mention, through our front door (we didn’t have a chimney).

The years ticked by, and I never did get that much longed-for horse. Other than that, Santa never let me down. I received a copy of Black Beauty one year, though, and read it and read it and read it until the covers fell off and the pages disintegrated. A book isn't as good as a horse, but it's not a bad alternative.

My birthday is in December, just eleven days before Christmas, as a matter of fact. So I was nine all year long that fateful year, still a child, but beginning to take a hard look, to calculate. The magic had become fuzzy. I would lie in bed on that top bunk and try to figure just exactly how Santa pulled it off. Every child is the center of his or her own universe, so as long as Santa made it to my house, calculating how he made it to every other kid's house in the world in one night hadn't been an issue, until the Christmas I turned ten.

Christmas morning, my sister and I opened our presents, then we all went to Grandma and Grandpa's for the day. Stuffed with turkey, we came home, sleepy and happy. A few days later, my mother and I were in our tiny kitchen; I was sitting at the table, coloring. I was confused, and worried.

"Mom," I said. "Wasn't I a good girl last year?"

She stopped drying the bowl she had just washed. "Yes, you were very good. Why?"

"Well, Santa didn't bring me any presents."

Her brow furrowed. "Of course he did. You got a doll and that coloring book, and---"

"No," I interjected. "Those things were from you and Daddy. The tags were all signed from you and Daddy. Nothing from Santa."

Looking back on it now, I think that was the first time I was ever able to see behind a person's eyes and into their head. I saw the wheels turn. I heard the thoughts. "Oops. Shoot," except that it was my mom, and the word she thought definitely was not shoot.

She put the bowl and dish towel down on the sink, and came to sit across from me at the table. I watched her intently, watched those wheels going at a break neck pace.

"But you believe in Santa . . . don't you?"

I think I shrugged, but I'm not sure. "It doesn't make sense, you know?"

"Well-l-l-l, who do you think Santa is then?" Her brown eyes never left mine.

"You and Daddy."

She relaxed a little, nodded a little, let out a long breath. "Yes," she said. She smiled, but it wasn't a happy thing. "You're right. There is no Santa, Mianne. It's Daddy and me."

I nodded, very matter-of-factly, I think. Frowning, it occurred to me there was a whole cadre of mystical characters whose cover had just been blown. "So, there's no Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy, either?"

With a slow shake of her head, she whispered, "No."

I closed up my coloring book, tossed my Crayolas into their shoebox and left the table. I was pretty okay with it, I suppose, knowing the truth. It didn't bother me, but it bothered her. I saw it there, in her eyes, just before I left the kitchen. I gave her a hug and thanked her for all the Christmases, for all the magic. I tried to assure her she'd done a good job, but she didn't seem any happier about it.

Now I know why. I had just taken a giant step toward adulthood, and away from her. The magic would never come again, and even though I might miss it, she would miss it more. Having daughters of my own, I finally understand.

I was barely ten when Santa went away. In reality, my memory of him had begun when I'd been probably three, so for a mere six or seven years of my life, I believed there was a rosy cheeked man in a red suit who entered our house every Christmas Eve and left presents for us under the tree. Seven years. Not very long, but what an impact those years had on me, had on all of us who believed. We loved the magic, maybe even needed it. It's why we continue the myth and pass it along to our children, and it's why we get a little sad, a little nostalgic when it's tossed into that musty closet of things all children leave behind.

But there is hope for we who once believed . . . and its name is grandchildren!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a wonderful Winter Solstice to all!

Marianne

6 Comments:

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Ugh, hate spam (above comment). I just wanted to thank you for sharing a moment in time. I can't remember exactly how I knew there as no Santa. I do think the image of him is magic, it's actually a lovely gift in itself from our parents.

 
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