(Note: This is the memory slated to post on December 6, a day without Internet for me. I hope to be caught up by tomorrow.)
It is Christmas Eve, 1952, early in the evening, for my brother, not quite 2, and I, 4 1/2, are still up. The new twins are sleeping, and some aunts and uncles are visiting with my mother. Daddy is in Japan, and will soon be going to war in Korea, but my brother and I don’t understand this. We are excited about Christmas. Suddenly there is a knocking on the window and a face appears out of the darkness – a face with a big white beard and crowned with a red hat with fur trim. We know who that must be. Yet one of us is frightened and hides behind the big armchair, while the other laughs excitedly at this visit from Santa. But which was the frightened one and which the brave? It seems to me I used to know, but now I can’t remember. Perhaps the fact that I can’t recall whether Santa came into the house suggests that I was the scaredy-cat. This is my first memory of Santa Claus.
I don’t recall much about “commercial” Santas in my childhood, other than the advertisements for Coca-Cola and other things that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post or other magazines we took. I can’t recall ever visiting a department store Santa, although when we lived on military posts there may have been Santas at the NCO Club parties – more about one of those in the next post. Santa, to us, was a spirit or “ghost.”
As such, Santa (and we) adhered to some very specific rules. On Christmas Eve we hung our stockings (Daddy’s big olive-drab Army socks) on the backs of chairs. I don’t recall ever having a fireplace or worrying about the lack of one. Then we went to bed earlier than usual, after leaving a snack for Santa. No cookies and milk for our Santa – he liked pie and coffee, we knew.
We could get up as early as we wanted on Christmas morning – 4:30, 4:00, maybe even 3:30! (To this day I can’t sleep late on Christmas morning and usually wind up waking everyone else up.) We would wake our parents, and then came the tantalizing minutes while they went to the living room and the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. Thus fortified, they called us in to attack the stockings. Santa does not wrap presents; he puts them in the stockings, or underneath if they do not fit. Santa always left us a thank-you note for the pie and coffee. It was written in a special “ghostly” handwriting – very shaky like the handwriting of a very old person. By the time we were done exclaiming over our gifts from Santa, and had reached the tangerine or orange in the toe, our parents were ready to face the day (I suspect Mama had already been out in the kitchen getting the huge turkey into the oven). Then my father would begin to hand out the tree presents, one at a time, with everyone watching each other unwrap the gifts from our parents and others, and those we gave.I don’t know a lot about Santa in my mother’s childhood home (and still less of my father’s), but I do remember her saying that they always heard reindeer hooves on the roof and could see the prints in the snow on Christmas morning. Was it just Grampie throwing snowballs? If so, he missed out on a baseball career, because it would take a powerful arm to throw snowballs onto that roof. Here’s a picture of their house, just before it was torn down to make room for I95. The rooms had tall Victorian ceilings and the children nearly all slept on the second floor.
Raising our own children in the city, Onkel Hankie Pants and I did take them to see Santa – for many years, in conjunction with the Christmas show of animated figures at Dayton’s downtown store. Polaroid photographs were sold of the occasion; the children’s reactions to their Santa visits varied, as you can see below.
One year when Sisterfilms was small, we discovered the Santa at Bachman’s, the giant florist/nursery/gift shop whose lilac packaging is a familiar sight in the Twin Cities. I would readily believe that this was the Real Santa. And there was no hard sell – bring your own camera, take your own picture.Santa’s duties are shared in our home now, and even the grownups and the dog get stockings. In some way, even when I’m staggering around early in the morning filling stockings, I still believe in the Santa Claus spirit my parents taught me about.