As a child, the longest nights in my life were the nights before Christmas. I would lie there in the dark for what seemed like hours listening for the reindeer hooves on our roof, or the faintest sounds of bells tinkling from Santa’s sleigh. I believed. I believed that Santa would come and eat our homemade oatmeal cookies and drink milk from the glass bottles in the icebox and sit a spell to rest near our tree. I couldn’t sleep because I could miss it all. All of it.
It was 1947. The war had ended a few years back and we had moved in with my grandparents to get a new start. New job for Daddy. No more food ration stamps for Mother. Santa’s big bag of wishes for my brother and I. This would be the best Christmas ever! Golly. There were enough chimney’s for Santa at Grandpa’s. The old Victorian had one in every room and I had especially reminded Grandpa before I went to bed to keep the one in Grandma’s parlor open for him. Right near the tree.
Lying there with visions of everything on my long Santa list scrolling through my head, suddenly I heard it. I heard a clamor outside, noise and rushing about. He is here! He is here! Santa’s here! I was so excited that I rushed toward my brother’s bed and started shaking him. “He’s here. Santa’s here.” But Sherman must have been dreaming his own list of wonderful bows and arrows and such that he refused to surface back to the real world. I couldn’t stir him.
I was too afraid to peak out the window for fear that he wouldn’t leave anything but coal in my stocking if he caught me spying. So, eventually, that wonderful, long night in my seventh year of believing, what I didn’t know would be my last year of believing, I finally fell asleep knowing that Santa had come with toys and things for all of us.
My grandmother died that Christmas Eve. The scampering I heard was my mother and grandfather leaving the house to take her to the hospital. The toys under the tree I recognized as cast-offs from my older cousins. And the night case hidden under the buffet in Grandmas’ parlor was her suitcase brought home from the hospital. My seven-year-old heart was torn with grief about my grandmother that I loved dearly and the realization that Santa had not come after all.
I can’t say I learned anything about this experience, or that it changed me in anyway. I do know whatever heartache or disappointment I had, I kept to myself. Some wise moral to this event in my young life? Maybe I did grow up a bit over night. I really don’t know. I can only say it was a Christmas that I will never forget.