Stories capture our imagination and fix themselves to us, imprint us with their power once and forever. My Santa, the first Christmas I touched the reality of his presence, the magic of that moment has never left me.
I’ve had many chapters in my life. Much like a classic story. One chapter ended and the next found me in a completely different life. But this is the story of a particular year. This is the story of Santa and believing and the special magic of a moment. A long, long time ago as the world would see it now. Back during the ancient of days. This is the way it was.
My family was a small tribe of two. My mother, and myself and then the regular cast of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. As I grew up and grew older, there were noisy summers filled with shouts and games and animals. Hot dusty times trudging through woods, searching for treasure, climbing trees and skint knees. But in this chapter on this year, on this night I knew nothing of those days to come.
My mother and I lived alone. My father was in the service and usually far from home. Not a regular member of the family in that way but a visitor with honor. The house was different when he was home. It was old spice, early mornings, a mans voice and, I must admit, a sense of safety. I didn’t cuddle to this man not because he wasn't loveable - he was. My father simply wasn’t always around. I valued with the jealous heart of a child my mother’s sole attention. I was her world and our home was my keeper. A sanctuary which in a few years would suffer a fire and be turned to complete ash but on this day I had no knowledge again of the future of things. In this moment at two years old I was nothing but dreams and believing.
On that cold Christmas Eve in the ancient of days my father was home on leave. My memory begins with this moment – the three of us sitting in the tiniest of ‘dens’. It was my favorite room, pine paneled and it held the television in the center of the far wall. An old black and white where I watched Captain Kangaroo in the mornings and at some point The Three Stooges although the timing of that escapes me.
This was before the days that we could tune in every Christmas Eve to It’s A Wonderful Life, The Christmas Story, or Elf on any given channel of two hundred. We had two stations. On a good day when the weather cooperated, three. But we were gathered there watching something on television. My mother to my left. My father to my right. Me in my tiny sized rocker in the middle.
My mother turns to me and says, “I hear something, do you hear something?” And my father looks at her and says, “Yes, why I do. I do hear something.” And then in hushed whispers over my head began to ask one another, “Do you think it’s Santa Claus? Do you think he’s here?” Gasp! Santa? Here? There’s a rule right? We’re not supposed to be awake, we’re not supposed to actually see Santa but to just know he comes in the night and we wake to discover he’s been here. That he’s eaten the cookies and gone on his way. Then music began to play. “Do you hear music?” my mother asks me. I nod, big eyed and wordless. Yes, I heard music. Indeed, something outside this room was happening. Someone was in there.
The three of us moved quietly from our chairs, closer to the door, paused as my father cracked the door just a bit and peeked into the tiny living room through the kitchen. The music grew louder as he opened the door and now seemed to be growing louder still.
“Let’s go see,” he says – “Let’s see if he’s still here.”
We tip-toe towards the tree. Santa creepers. Total believers.
“Look,” my mother says, “He has been here. He’s eaten the cookies and left you a present.”
The present, the one Santa present under the tree. Yes, it was there. The cookies were eaten.
“He must have started the music for us.” Says Dad. “We must have just missed him.”
They had taken their seats, loving this, the rarity of togetherness, the sense of family and Christmas and new traditions being born.
I stood still in the middle of the room, caught in the glow of the lights, the music, their laughter, the materialization of that present.
“Look,” them settled. “See what Santa brought you.”
But the Santa present was the last thing on my mind. It was Santa himself that enraptured me. I was captured by the essense of him hanging in the room, the tangible evidence of him, the ghost of him, the reality of him.
I rushed to the window by the tree, looked up into the sky, searching. And just like that I heard the sleigh bells ringing over the house as he flew into the night. So close, so tangible, so real. I heard them. I did.
My favorite story was my first Christmas of believing in that Santa magic. It would never be my last.