The fourth grade girl slid from her bed fearful of awaking her sister sleeping in the twin bed next to hers. She avoided bumping the parakeet’s cage at the foot of her bed in the dark. His screeches could be loud enough to awaken the rest of the sleeping family.
When her eyes adjusted to the dim light in the living room, she eyed her initialed stocking, hung over the fireplace. She lifted the heavy item then removed and studied every object inside the red corduroy stocking. She squealed silently when special treats were discovered, ones hidden well in closets she did not find during her investigations earlier in December. Finally, she replaced every item just as it was arranged earlier by Santa and rehung it on its hook.
By the time she completed her sneaky activities, she grew sleepy as she crawled silently down the hallway to her room. She slipped slowly under the covers without making the bedsprings squeak. She fell asleep while wondering why the rest of her family members were never as curious about Christmas as she was.
After her mother awakened the family the next morning with the good news, “I think Santa stopped by,” the curious girl rubbed her eyes, put on her robe and slippers then followed the family into the living room. She held her breath as her dad handed out all presents from under the tree. She became apprehensive. Will Dad notice her resealed packages? Will her mother or older sister see anything suspicious?
She breathed normally once she noticed her family members were so excited by their gifts they didn’t notice anything out of order. She acted surprised when each of her gifts was ripped open with glee. “Great!” or “I love it,” were her responses about each gift. She hugged parents and siblings when she said, “Thanks for your sweet gifts.”
After the presents were opened, she ran to the fireplace and carried the stockings for her brother and sister to them, then retrieved her own. They all shook the contents onto the carpet while sorting the fruit and nuts from the tiny presents. At last, she could squeal aloud over the fact that her stealthy previews were not discovered.
Prior to fifth grade, if she was home alone, she brought the family’s dog, a terrier named GooGoo, into the house so he would let her know if any family member came near the house. If he heard someone, he would walk toward the front door, so she knew when to hide presents back under the fresh, scratchy tree. While GooGoo stood watch, she peeled Scotch tape from one end of a wrapped present, slid the contents out, looked inside, then slid it back into its wrapping paper and affixed the tape back in its original spot. She was never caught peeking.
In fifth grade, a classmate named Sharon, the youngest student in her homeroom, announced in her tinny voice, “Your parents are Santa Claus.” Several classmates cried. When the teacher, Mrs. Schneider, walked back into the classroom, she asked. “Why are you crying?”
The sniffling, broken-hearted students told her what Sharon said. Mrs. Schneider’s cheeks turned pink and she stared at Sharon before she said to the class, “Discuss Santa with your parents when you get home this afternoon.”
Because her house was located cattycorner to the elementary school, she ran home faster than usual when the dismissal bell sounded. Her mother was cooking in the kitchen. “Sharon told us that you and Dad are Santa Claus, that there is no real one. Is that true?” she blurted out, in a shaky, tearful voice.
Her mother’s eyes met hers then she said, “I’m sorry, Sharon is a smart aleck, and she must have that story mixed up with another. Here, have a cookie.”
That Christmas Eve, wondering if she could catch her parents filling stockings and putting out Santa’s toys by the fireplace, she pretended to go to sleep when tucked into bed. A short time later, she heard cellophane paper crinkling in the living room. Sure she would catch Santa, real or parental, she tiptoed down the hall to take a peek.
“Drats,” she thought, “I missed Santa or Mom and Dad. Soon, she turned toward the fireplace and noticed the bulging stockings. She crept closer, reached for the one with her initials made of sequins sewn on the red corduroy then removed it from the hook and carried it to the living room couch. Quietly, she took the contents out one by one to appraise them. After checking out everything she refilled the stocking and hung it back on the hook. She tiptoed back to the bedroom shared with her older sister and gently shook her bed to awaken her. When she stirred, the curious one whispered, “Santa came after all. Sharon is a big, fat liar. Our stockings are full. Let’s go see what he brought you?” The big sister turned over on her side to face the wall and said, “No. Go back to bed.”
The younger girl did as her sister directed, afraid she would tattle on her if she didn’t obey. The next morning, their mother called from the living room, “Wake up sleepy heads, Santa has left you toys.” That’s the year Santa brought a doll-sized canopy bed just the right size for the smaller Madame Alexander doll she received the year before. She figured Santa was real and very smart to know the right size furniture to bring for that doll. She was convinced that Sharon was wrong about parents being Santa.
Three years later, our parents separated and Mother, my older sister and younger brother moved from a small town in Texas to the capitol city of Louisiana, Baton Rouge. Mother’s boss allowed the staff to leave early on Christmas Eve. We were packed and on the road quickly, hoping to reach the little house in Marksville, Louisiana, before dark.
Our grandmother’s house was ordered from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and built in 1935. We anticipated a fun time with her despite the sad fact that this was our first Christmas away from our father. Our parents separated in June, seven months before the Christmas holidays.
During our drive along the roads bordered by moss-hung oaks, my younger brother expressed his fear that Santa might overlook us since we were away from our own house. I thought a few seconds then explained, “First, Santa will be attracted to Mama Jeanne’s chimneys. Second, Santa is smart and will know where we are. Remember, he keeps track of all kids.”
I sang a few words of the song, “He’s making his list, and checking it twice, he’s gonna know who’s naughty or nice.” My white lies seemed to satisfy him and he relaxed in the backseat of our Chevy and didn’t mention his concern again.
Once we arrived and settled in, Mother announced, as she unpacked, “Oh, fiddle, I forgot to pack your Christmas stockings.” We improvised by hanging up our extra socks above the fireplace in the living room. We toasted our backs at the cheerful, warming fire which was started earlier by our grandmother to make the room cozy. Before long, delicious scents wafted from Mama Jeanne’s kitchen. She rang her brass bell shaped like a woman then invited us to gather at her dining room table for a delicious dinner.
Bedtime arrived soon after we finished and we got ready to cuddle under the covers of the feather beds. My sister and I slept in the middle room which had a large wool rug made from outgrown clothes over the linoleum floor laid atop the wooden floors. This collage blocked out most of the cold air which crept underneath the house held up by piers. Our brother slept in the warmer front bedroom which had a fireplace. After saying our prayers, we expressed our wishes aloud for what we hoped the morning would bring.
As we called out our, “Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite” greeting to our mother and grandmother, we heard their giggles on the far side of the house in Mama Jeanne’s bedroom. The mother and daughter were sly as they rummaged around in the dark to find things to fill our three mismatched socks. As I drifted off to sleep I heard the faint rustling of drawers opened and closed.
On Christmas morn, we kids, aged 15, 13, and 9, squealed with joy to see that old Santa Claus had not forgotten us. While my sister and I checked out the contents of our socks, our little brother stated solemnly, “Santa must have thought I had a tummy ache.”
We craned our necks to see what he held up and gasped a little to see a small, green-colored Tums package. His innocent belief in Santa touched us; I remembered when I believed wholeheartedly. I felt my throat tighten. Sis and I exchanged glances and suppressed our giggles while our mother and grandmother scurried from the living room as they headed for the kitchen. They did not laugh over their mistake of picking up the Tums in the dark rather than mints. Instead, they said, “We’ll check to see if breakfast is ready.”
Our happy mood continued after we opened our modest presents and finished the feast of French toast, fresh country sausages, plus warm apple rings. Afterwards, Mama Jeanne turned on her black and white television in the living room. This did not happen often at our home in Baton Rouge. Mother did not allow us to watch TV until after our homework and chores were done. Because of the holidays, she relaxed her standards and laughed along with the rest of us at the festive, seasonal television specials. Later, while Mama Jeanne played her upright piano, Christmas carols and hymns filled the little house. I claimed my favorite spot, hugging my grandmother’s back, while she played and sang.
The memory of our different Christmases lingers because of the love and laughter our family shared despite the changes in our lives and the realization that Santa was not the character we hoped he was for so long.
Barbara Boothe Loyd, writer and poet, has her work published in several anthologies. Also a studio painter, she lives in Fredericksburg, Texas with her husband and three pets.