blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas Past

I was born at the end of the baby bust, so when I was little, for a time, kids were something special, and my cousin and I were no exceptions. We lived in a pleasant Ohio town which boasted a fine small college, home to our families since before the Depression. Mike’s parents lived just 4 blocks from us, "uptown," while we lived down by the creek, on Old Cemetery Street. His parents owned a Cadillac, even if it was a hand-me-down one from my Uncle’s parents, who were sufficiently well-to-do to buy a new car every two years. They liked to “do things up right.”  At Christmas, this meant engaging a Santa Claus who would visit their son and me.

Now, I’ve heard more about this Santa since I’ve been grown, 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, focusing on the Christmas cards hung up on butcher’s twine beneath the cabinets so as 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 it could be? I wanted to go see, 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, red-cheeked face, and a marvelous red suit and black patent leather belt and boots. He was even carrying a sack. My father was grinning in a way I had learned meant I was being snookered, so after I croaked out a “Hello, Santa,” I asked about his reindeer.

“Oh, they’re up on the roof—and you don’t have a proper chimney, so I knocked on the door.”

Well, this seemed reasonable, because I knew our chimney ended up in the coal furnace in the cellar, obviously not a good place for Santa 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, like men often did in those days, of whiskey. He was a polite, low-key Santa. His “ho-ho-ho's” were like someone chuckling about a private joke.

He asked me what I wanted most for Christmas, so I told him, about the “drink-wet” baby doll and the teddy bear. Outside the door, sleigh bells softly jingled. It was pretty amazing, there in the light of our Christmas tree, with bright packages piled beneath. What was even more amazing, after a little digging around, he fished the very "drink-wet" baby I'd been wanting out of his sack and gave it to me.

After I'd thanked him--and I really was surprised at getting the dolly--he said “Merry Christmas, Judy Lee,” and said he’d be back later, because he had to go and get the rest of the presents.

As he left, there was a blast of cold and the sound of departing bells. Again I wanted to peep out the window, but my Dad caught my hand and asked, “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.

I was left to ponder, even though “Seeing is believing.”

Although my Santa had been nice, jolly and bearded--convincing in many ways--I hadn’t seen him fly away. Besides, I really wanted to see his reindeer and pet them, and it was pretty clear that I wasn’t supposed to go out or to watch while he departed. Mike was even younger than I, so about all I learned from him was that he too had had a visit from “Santa.” I decided this man might or might not be Santa, but it wouldn’t hurt to act as if he was.


  1. I had a similar Santa experience when I was a child, the very year I'd decided Santa was not real! Turns out, Madeleine L'Engle is right: some things have to be believed to be seen. 8-)

  2. My favorite (make that most infamous!) Santa memory was not an actual St. Nick encounter but rather about my dear late Aunt Betty. She was my Dad's older sister and was typically a very funny lady with a dry and sometimes rather twisted sense of humor.
    Imagine my horror and how deeply hurt I was(I was a rather serious little girl who usually was clueless about adults and their sense of humor) when she informed me that she was thinking about offering Santa a cup of coffee laced with sleeping pills when he came to her house that year . . . so that she could keep him and all the toys! (Possibly the one and only time I didn't like the woman or her jokes). God Bless you, Aunt Betty. I was so thankful you never carried out your plan and you continued to buy me Barbie dolls for Christmas for many years to come.