My father told yarns. Big ones. Yarns about fish of impossible dimensions. Yarns about ghosts and leprechauns. If something was impossible, impractical, or downright strange, my father had a yarn for it. So it should have been no surprise to me that he would have a yarn or two to tell about Santa.
I was on the cusp between belief and disbelief, and not quite sure which way I’d fall that particular Christmas. Was there a Santa? It had all seemed so clear the year before, but now as Christmas Eve wore on and we set about trimming the tree with strung popcorn and paper chains, and setting out a plate of fresh-baked sugar cookies for Santa, I was not so sure. I wanted proof—and I had a plan.
“Dad,” I asked, “is there really a Santa Claus?”
Dad didn’t miss a beat. “Well, of course there’s a Santa Claus. Where do you think all the presents come from?”
“Your closet, maybe?”
He was clearly taken aback, but like all tellers of yarns, he was quick to recover. “Oh, those, they’re just extras, little somethings. I couldn’t possibly afford the gifts that Santa has been bringing you.”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
He had a point. No one would confuse our humble Thank God for Duct Tape existence with, say, our neighbors, the Sharpers, who had a real Lionel train chugging around their tree and a new shark-finned Cadillac in the driveway.
“Well, good, I’m glad we had this little talk.” He turned and threw a handful of tinsel at the tree, which was now leaning in a way that suggested imminent collapse.
I wasn’t about to let him off the hook that easily, though. “But how does he get in here? Our fireplace is fake.”
It was true. My father had installed it himself, complete with a stack of fake logs over a crinkled up piece of parchment that rotated under the logs and was backlit by a red, flickering light. It was just pathetic.
“Well, of course he doesn’t come down the chimney. We don’t have one.”
“So how does he get in?”
My father paused only briefly to take a bite of one of Santa’s cookies, his lips coming away sugary red. “Why, he just walks in the front door, is all.”
He almost had me. It was a time, believe it or not, when people rarely locked their doors, day or night. “So what if we locked the doors tonight? What would he do then?”
My sister, who was five years older and well past the cusp, decided to chime in as a co-conspirator from her perch atop the back of the living room couch. “Don’t be silly. Santa can just walk through walls.”
My father could have taken the easy way out and agreed with her, but he saw the look of incredulity on my face and decided to take a more yarn-worthy tack. “Oh, some believe that, that’s true, but I think if we locked the door tonight, he’d know—he’d know in the way he knows who’s naughty and who’s nice—and he’d just leave the presents on the roof.
My sister gasped. “Or just outside the front door,” she said quickly, sensing well before my father where this conversation was headed.
“Oh, no,” said my father. “He’s much too busy for that. No, I’m sure he’d leave the presents on the roof, call out, ‘On Dasher, on Blitzkrieg’ and so forth, and fly away.”
My trap was set.
“Oh, really?” I said, standing and walking to the door, locking it with a tad too much bravado for a boy in Daffy Duck footie pajamas. “Good night, then.”
I strutted from the room, down the hall to my room, and closed the door. A brief, though muffled, conversation then ensued between my father and my sister. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I did hear my mother walk into the room and say something that sounded like scolding. But then, just moments later, they all laughed.
And then all was quiet. I listened as hard as I could, and tried to stay awake, but sleep overtook me.
The ambulance arrived a few hours later, lights flashing, siren blaring, awakening me with a start. I raced from my room, down the hall, into the living room, and out the open front door, where I saw my father being lifted onto a stretcher, my mother and sister hovering over him, surrounded by what must have been the entire neighborhood. Even the Sharpers were there in their matching bathrobes.
“What happened!” I shouted.
“Quiet,” said my sister. “Dad fell off the roof.”
“Don’t worry,” said my mother. He was just helping Santa, and he slipped. He’ll be fine.”
I turned and looked back at the roof of the house. A bicycle was sitting on its peak, and other presents, wrapped and unwrapped, were scattered from the peak to the eaves and on the ground below. It looked like an avalanche of presents.
My father, not one to ignore the opportunity of a crowd, beckoned me to his side and, through gritted teeth and the pain of a broken leg, announced for all to hear what would become a neighborhood legend and the reason many children continued to believe in Santa for years.
“I was just helping Santa with the presents, and slipped when he and his reindeer flew away. Surely you saw it. I mean, Rudolph’s nose is as bright as the ambulance’s lights.”
Some adults and older kids laughed, and a few even clapped, but we children on the cusp just turned and gaped at the bicycle on the roof, our Christmas totem. And then, as if by signal, little Bobby Sharper shouted, “Presents!” and everyone scattered, each running for home and the treasures that awaited them.
I think if my father, the Great Embellisher, were telling this yarn, right about now he’d throw in a large group of carolers in turn-of-the-century garb, all holding candles and singing your favorite carol, whatever it might be—you know, the one that brings tears to your eyes and joy to your heart and makes you remember your very best Christmas ever.
But to me, the idea of carolers showing up at 3:00 a.m. is kind of disturbing, so I’ll just end this tale with what we kids imagined that Santa must have said as his sleigh lifted into the air and my father’s eyes grew wide as he began his tumble: “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”