As an 8-year-old, the story of Santa Claus didn’t jibe with me: A rotund white man in a silvery beard and red suit delivering gifts to children around the world, while driving a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer. All in one night! I wasn’t the sharpest tack in the box, but I wasn’t a complete idiot either. “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus,” I announced to my dad one evening near Christmas.
Armed with a few scientific facts I’d gleaned from other non-believing 2nd graders, I continued my argument. “Reindeer don’t have wings.” I said. “And to make a trip around the world, everyone knows it takes 80 days.” I leveraged my arguments like a baseball bat, ready to knock my dad’s responses out of the park.
“You’re absolutely right,” he said, turning from his football game long enough to douse my storm. “There is no such thing as Santa Claus.”
That was it! I was prepared for a fight, but he offered no resistance. I’d hoped, at least, he’d explain those things about Santa Claus that didn’t make sense, the way grandpa always explained those things about God that didn’t make sense — things like creating the world in six days simply by speaking the words. “Don’t spoil it for your brothers,” was his only additional comment.
I was crushed, and I wanted to cry. I knew a Santa Claus didn’t exist, but I really wanted him to.
On that night, I resolved to protect my three younger brothers from the painful truth. I appointed myself Santa’s personal marshal. My mission: To preserve the sanctity of Santa Claus and to retain the magic of Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, in our tiny bedroom, my brothers became my prisoners while I, the Marshal, established the rules. Rule #1: Everyone had to be in bed by 8 o-clock p.m., no exceptions. That gave dad plenty of time to assemble our toys and to eat the frosted cookies we’d left out for Santa. It gave mom enough time to wrap our gifts and to drink Santa’s milk, while still having time to finalize any Christmas decorations. Rule #2: No one was allowed to leave the bedroom, not even to use the bathroom.
“But I gotta go pee,” my brothers pleaded. Made no difference to me. No matter how much they begged — legs crossed, jumping around the room like Christmas jitterbugs — no one was allowed past the bedroom door. We would enjoy the magic of Christmas together, even if it meant soiling our beds.
“No!” I barked. “Santa Claus might be out there, and if he sees you, he’ll move on to the next house without leaving you any presents.”
“But why’s mom and dad still out there?” one of my brothers asked.
“Because we don’t have a fireplace, and if you want any gifts, somebody’s got to let the man in!” For the next few hours, my lies multiplied like Easter bunnies.
After my brothers finally fell asleep, I laid awake, staring at the ceiling. I thought about the story, The Night Before Christmas, wondering about St. Nicholas, wishing for visions of sugar plumbs, still hoping for flying reindeer.
Quietly, I slipped out from under my blankets, careful not to wake my brothers, and I tiptoed to the bedroom door. All sorts of curious sounds punctuated the night — the rumble of an engine coming from a toy motorcycle, wrapping paper being ripped from a roll, metal scissors snipping at delicate ribbon, muffled voices. The Christmas music had stopped playing, and it sounded like someone was watching Hitchcock on TV. Slowly I turned the doorknob until it unlatched, and then I forced the weight of the door into it’s setting to prevent it from creaking. I peered out, hoping that no one would see me. Maybe dad had lied. Maybe Santa Claus really did exist.
My hopes for Santa were quickly squelched. There was no such thing after all, unless Santa Claus was a dark-skinned black man who smoked Kool cigarettes and drank Jim Beam whisky, while wearing nothing but his tighty-whitie Fruit of the Looms. Dad sat there in his drunken glory beneath our silver-aluminum Christmas tree, in a tangled mess of orange and black Hot Wheel tracks. Bummer. Though Hot Wheel tracks were exactly what I wanted.
Early in the morning, my brothers and I gathered at the bedroom door, our ears glued to the surface, listening for that familiar Christmas morning sound: the toilet flushing and the bathroom door unlocking. Mom was up! It was time to see what Santa had left. I released my prisoners, all of whom, including myself, practically knocked mom aside in a beeline for the bathroom.
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