Number 9 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.
Tuesday, September 8, 1948, I had just turned six and was a half-step away from losing all the magic that was left in my young life. Thirteen months earlier, with the arrival of my brother, I’d ceased being an only child and become simply the older of two boys. Nine months later, with my new status almost handled, I began my schoolboy years. I knew I was in trouble when my mother abandoned me in a room full of dungaree-smelling kids who stared at me like I was a new guppy in the piranha tank.
I hated school, Were it not for Miss Tillman, my first grade teacher, I’d have never made it into the educational system. In spite of her, I still get goose bumps when I think of all the miserable things that happened to me in the first grade; not the least of which occurred my first day on the playground. In an effort to bring a bit of magic into that miserable place, I confided to a few older boys that Santa Claus would be stopping by my house very soon.
Today, sixty-four years later, I don’t have to close my eyes to recall that moment. It’s still etched in the front of my brain. In perfect sync, they laughed like they had rehearsed it for months. I don’t mean giggled. They rolled on the ground in waves of laughter. Finally, the leader managed to say, “There is no Santa Claus. Santa Claus is for babies. You’re way too old to believe in Santa Claus.”
A baby brother, school, and now no Santa; it was too much. I was sitting on the front steps when Daddy came home from work. He took one look at me and postponed whatever he had intended to do. He sat down beside me. For a while we just stared at the cars going up and down Second Avenue. Finally he said, “How was school, Son?”
I didn’t pull any punches. “It was really bad, Daddy. I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t learn anything; and I don’t want to go back.”
He thought about that for a while and then said, “What happened?”
It took a while for me to get it out between sobs. Finally I grabbed the words and sobbed them out. “The big kids said there is no Santa Claus.”
He was quiet for a long time. Then he put his arm around my shoulders, looked right in my eyes, and said, “That’s really the problem, that matters, isn’t it?”
I looked at him, wiped my nose on my shirt sleeve, something I would have never gotten away with if I had been talking to mother, and I said, “Yessir, I guess that’s it.”
I can still see the smile that spread across his face, especially on this day, as he said, “I think I can do something about that son. Yep, I think I can.” He paused, looked through my eyes and right into my heart, and said, “This has to be our secret, OK?”
I couldn’t talk, but I managed to say, “Yes, Sir.”
“Good. Now, here’s what I’m going to do. When you go to bed on Christmas Eve, I’m going to wait for Santa. When he comes into the kitchen for the coffee and cake you’ve left for him, I’m going to ask him if he will take a minute to talk to you.”
It took a while for me to answer. When I could manage it, I said, “Do you think he will?”
In a powerful voice I’d never heard before, he said, “I’m not going to let him leave until he does.”
It was tough, but I kept our secret. For more than three months that secret kept me going. When he finally tucked me in on Christmas Eve, Daddy put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Son. This is going to work.”
I don’t know how I managed to go to sleep or how long I’d been sleeping when someone shook me gently. My eyes snapped open, and I saw Daddy standing beside my bed. I felt a wave of disappointment begin to sweep over me. It died when Daddy smiled and whispered, “He’s here.”
Then the door swung wide open, and Santa walked into my bedroom. He sat down beside my bed, smiled, took a sip of the coffee I’d left for him, and said, “Now you know I’m not supposed to do this, but your Daddy said I couldn’t go until I talked to you; so here I am.”
He took another sip of coffee, touched my head and said, “No matter what you hear about me, now you know the truth. Don’t ever forget. OK?”
I could only nod. He stood, turned back toward me, bent low, and whispered, “Merry Christmas,” in my ear, and then he and Daddy slipped from my room.
A few minutes later, Daddy returned and without a word sat in chair that only a moment before Santa had used. We both laughed when the sound of sleigh bells suddenly filled the room, then Daddy whispered, “Merry Christmas, Son.”
Santa locked the magic in my heart that night and it has never left… it never will. May it never leave your heart either. When you have doubts and fears, you remember that on this night, sixty-four years ago, Santa came into my bedroom and talked to me.
If you’d like for me to ask him to stop by your house tonight and talk to you, just leave a comment and I’ll pass it on to him. Then you go to sleep and Santa will wake you. I promise…
Tonight, before I sleep, I’ll post number 10 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog posts. I call it Great Men (It will be about some amazing men that I’ve known and the impact they have had, and continue to have on my life). This is the Rockwell painting I’ll use to illustrate it: