I hadn’t seen him in almost forty years but there he was, waving at me from the cover of a greeting card. One eye twinkled, while the other closed in a saucy wink. Just the way I remembered him.
My parents separated the year I turned five so Mom and I moved in with my grandfather and my teenage aunts. Three women meant three bosses, so I did the only thing possible, I hid. Even with my stealth, I couldn’t escape the daily reminder: Santa will bring you a sack full of switches if you don’t shape up. I wasn’t especially looking forward to Mr. Claus’s visit.
The weather turned uncharacteristically cold and I refused to take off the fur hat my father had mailed to me. The previous Christmas, I'd found a set of paper-dolls under the tree, so a visit from Ole St. Nick couldn’t compete with my new fuzzy head-piece and its big shiny sequins.
When the house became unbearable, I’d take my hat and escape to the yard. I was a great pretender, becoming a master chef who created amazing pies out of mud and corn kernels. Or maybe I’d be a major-general, leading troops to victory against hordes of Nazi soldiers or a fairy queen who turned dandelions into roses with a single swish of my twiggy wand. But my greatest joy was listening to Gramps tell his marvelous stories.
One night, Gramps finished a story about a giant toe. I’d started to sweat because I sat too close to the fireplace and still wore my new hat. When he finished the story, he asked, "So, Teensie, what do you want Santa to bring you?"
I took off the hat, concentrating intensely on a sparkly sequin while I tried to stifle my sniffles. I couldn't tell Gramps about the switches.
"Teensie, what’s wrong with you?" he cajoled.
"Santa won’t come to see me, Gramps. I’ve been bad."
"And just what have you done that’s so bad?"
"Well, I got mud on Aunt Judie’s new rug and my fingerprints are all over the coffee table. I scuffed my new shoes and I wore this hat when Mama said I shouldn’t." I stopped rambling long enough to wipe my nose on my sleeve. "And, that’s just stuff I did today. I can’t even ‘member the stuff I did yesterday."
Gramps stared for a few seconds without speaking. I was sure he thought I’d get those switches after all. He finally spoke, "You must try to mind your Mama and your aunts, but Santa expects you to be good, not perfect."
I looked up in wonder. "You mean?"
"Yep. Santa doesn’t care about throw rugs and coffee tables. He wants you to do your best. Have you done that?"
"Yes." I was feeling pretty good.
"And have you told any lies?"
"Not a one!" I felt really good.
"Then I’m sure Santa will bring you something good."
On December twenty-fourth, my aunts and I sat around our Christmas tree eating chocolate and biscuits. Mama and Gramps had already gone to their rooms and Jingle Bell Rock played on the old radio. I hummed as I cut paper-dolls from an old catalog.
Aunt June asked, "Shouldn’t you be going to bed?"
"I can't go to sleep until the fire goes out." Both aunts snickered.
June went back to her album and Judie stuck her head back into the magazine with a picture of a man and a woman kissing on the cover. I grabbed my scissors when something in the window caught my eye. There he was.
He had neither hat nor hair on his head. I wondered if I should loan him my new hat. I glanced at my aunts to see if they saw him too, but they were reading. I looked back and Santa held his finger to his lips. He winked and the, just like that, he was gone.
I checked again to see if my aunts saw him,but they kept doing their teenage things. After a quick check of the fireplace to make sure only coals remained, I raced to bed and pulled the cover over my head.
Memories of that Christmas Eve had faded, but the perfect likeness on the greeting card brought the past back. I purchased the card.
Later that night, I called Aunt June. "When I was five, was that Gramps who dressed up as Santa?"
"What are you talking about?"
"There was a Santa at the window. Was that Gramps?"
My aunt remained silent for a moment. "No one ever dressed up as Santa. Even if we could have afforded a Santa Claus suit, your mother would never have allowed it."
"Are you sure?" I persisted. "I saw a Santa outside the window."
"I promise you. While we lived in the farmhouse, there was never a Santa."
Oh but there was. I hung up, perplexed. I still don't know who or what I saw outside that window, but in my mind, Santa will always live.
Copyright © 2011 by Robin Weaver
Note: Normally, I write only fiction, but this happens to be a true story. Happy Holidays, everyone!