Christmas past becomes gift for Christmas present

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So I am home this week, trying to adjust to the Davidless holiday. It's been awful, I won't lie. At the time my kiddos really need it the most, I am least able to be cheery. Indeed, our "tree" is actually a collection of tiny fake firs from the Dollar Store, dotted with cheesy mini glass globes.

I couldn't bear to have the Christmas totes come up from storage. I found this out when I was gazing at pre-lit trees at Wal-Mart. Assuming my lethargy was a result of being overwhelmed by decorating logistics, I thought I'd pay a few bucks for simplicity.

For you real-tree-or-die folks, let your minds wander to a place where the dog thought the inside was outside last year when he sniffed fresh pine. Exactly.

Gazing up at "600 bulbs! When one goes out, the rest stay lit!" I realized it wasn't the tree tugging at my Christmas roots, it was everything else. At that minute, I understood that to take the lids off those plastic boxes was to release a new wind of loss.

Couldn't do it. Not even for the stockings. And when I cried as I realized this, my 11-year-old -- in a voice aged with early wisdom -- put her hand on mine. "We'll get through this, Mom."

And we are. Tuesday we entertained, Wednesday we baked and wrapped, tonight we go to the annual neighborhood party.

Looking for gift wrap uncovered my present from David, in the form of a column I wrote in 2000 for The Oregonian, hidden under an avalanche of clippings. Let me share it with you.


But what happened next came as a shock. Humming a carol, I glanced over at the calendar hawkers and caught a glimpse of red. The sight stopped me short.

It was Santa. I began breathing rapidly and clenching my fists, my nails digging half-circles into my palms. Muscles knotted under my Rudolph sweatshirt. Gnawing at my lip, I pushed my way back through the crowd, averting my eyes until I was certain to be out of visual range.

Dang, I thought. I can't believe the emotion is still there, taking me back to that one special Christmas.

We're not big Santa Claus pushers in our family. It's a fun story for the kids, but not why we celebrate Christmas.

However it had long been a fantasy of my husband's to be Santa. To be Santa. Wandering through the malls year after year, he cast wistful looks toward guys stuffed into velveteen suits. His lip would curl at Santas deemed not cheerful enough. "I could do better than that guy," he would whisper.

So when he spied a blurb in the paper seeking mall Santas, he came to me like a little boy on, well, Christmas morning. He had already called to find out the shifts and discovered he could fill Santa's boots late afternoons and evenings.

I was delighted for him. A kid magnet since I had known him, here was his chance to shine like the star on top of the tree.

It was fun in the beginning. He came home and chuckled about which of our friends he'd surprised by knowing their names. More than a few adults began to wonder if Santa really was keeping a list.

David would regale me with tales of calming frightened children or scaring a little brat straight, at least until after the 25th.

I smiled with each story, although by the third day it was wearing thin. By the seventh I was definitely less jolly as I watched him drive off in his Subaru sleigh. Santa's own kids were getting whiny, asking when Dad would be home from work. We hadn't disclosed to the twins just why their Daddy was working so long. Earlier in the week, I had taken them to see "Santa," and Twin No. 1 had accused him of stealing her father's shoes.

Who would guess a 5-year-old would know one pair of black shoes from another?

By the second week I was thinking thoughts of Santacide. I was the one, after all, pulling extra parenting patrol and trying to do all the season requires. No one else was around to run to the Post Office or hunt down the ornament boxes.

When we bought our tree, I dropped St. Nick off for work and proceeded to drive home with a huge tree atop the van containing five tired daughters. Two miles down the road the tree slid into my line of vision, proceeding to rest on the hood in front of me. One mile later the tree slid backward, tumbling over the back bumper. In 20-degree weather, I stood on the highway with tears frozen on my face, silently promising to bungee Santa to the back of his sleigh.

Santa's reign came to a rather dramatic end. Thanks to Dad's extracurricular ho-ho-ho-ing, I had been daydreaming of splurging at Toys R Us. It made my hectic schedule more bearable. When David returned from work one night, I showed him the list I'd compiled, from baby dolls to computer games.

He looked at my list a long time. Flicking a stray white curl off his eyebrow, he turned to me. "Honey, I already ordered a telescope I've had my eye on," he whispered. OK, and flinched. Another long-time fantasy, it turned out.

That ended up being Santa's very last night to work. Once he tallied up babysitting costs and the price of buying me a vacation package, David discovered he just couldn't afford to wear the red suit anymore.

And if you look closely at the moon on Christmas Eve, you may just see the strangest sight: a Tasco telescope orbiting in the night.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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