Averyell A. Kessler
During a long-ago December, I lived in limbo as a halfway child. The best part of me was still a dedicated Santa Claus devotee, but as I edged toward double digit years, I began to doubt. For weeks, I’d heard my Power School classmates dissecting Santa, some whispering behind their hands, some brazenly shouting “Your parents are Santa Claus, dummy.”
For a while I didn’t believe the skeptics, just as I didn’t believe behind the garage secrets or show-offs trying to pop my balloon with a sharp pin. However, some things didn’t make sense, and I began to wonder. Did reindeer really fly? Could anyone survive life at the North Pole or visit every single house on earth in the space of a single night? I decided to find out. I was prompted by The Hidden Staircase, my first Nancy Drew book. When I saw Nancy on the cover, flashlight in hand, creeping up a spooky stone staircase, I was hooked. She was the female version of the Hardy Boys, and never failed to tie up a mystery in a tight, red bow. Perhaps I could too.
I decided to search the house. Our Belhaven cottage wasn’t large, so I’d have to be careful. I slipped a flashlight out of Daddy’s wooden toolbox and found a pair of soft wool mittens. I doubt my parents would have inspected our doorknobs for fingerprints, but who knows? The best time to look was in the afternoon, when Daddy was at work and Mama was out running errands. Our housekeeper, Ella was usually on a drowsy, soap opera watching sabbatical and I was free to roam our house. Closets first, more later. No luck the first day, but I continued, lifting bed skirts, searching my mother’s underwear drawer, and pushing aside boxes in our closets. Nothing.
By that time, a mound of presents was forming under our Christmas tree. They were a glittering temptation. After a few days, I mastered the technique of sliding my little finger under strips of scotch tape, loosening them, and carefully opening one end of the package. I discovered I was receiving Monopoly, a life saver story book, as well as a paint-by-numbers peacock. All well and good, but I still hadn’t found the granddaddy of them all, Santa’s treasure trove of goodies. Perhaps he did exist after all.
After the second day of futile searching, I woke up in the middle of the night with a thunderbolt realization. I had not looked in the storage cabinet above our broom closet, the one Mama needed the kitchen chair stepladder to reach. I had one more chance. That afternoon, I moved the chair in front of the broom closet, climbed up and opened the cabinet slowly to avoid a telltale squeak. Eureka! There it was, my parents’ secret stash, an RCA Victor 45 record player, and a wide variety of records including Frogman Henry’s Ain’t Got No Home, Elvis’ Don’t Be Cruel, and Lisbon Antiqua by Nelson Riddle. I also found a new pair of penny loafers, a pink crinoline petticoat, and a stack of Nancy Drew Books. I was especially excited about The Secret of the Old Clock, which I’d been longing for. Then it hit me. My friends were right. The evidence was right in front of me. There was no Santa Claus. My brain whirled and my stomach turned itself upside down. No tears, but I felt like it. I spent the rest of the day in a blue funk and was inordinately quiet at supper. That night Mama came to my room at bedtime.
“You found them, didn’t you?” she asked quietly.
“Yes,” I nodded. “How did you know?”
“You were too quiet,” she answered. “Mama’s always know when something wrong.”
“There’s no Santa Claus, is there?” I asked, raising my eyes to hers.
“Yes, there is. He’s just not who you thought he was,” she smiled. “Santa Claus is the spirit of giving. Doesn’t matter who does the giving, as long as it’s done.” I perked up. There was hope.
“Does this mean he won’t come anymore?”
“Your Daddy and I will still put surprise gifts under the tree if you want us to.”
“I do,” I answered.
“Here’s the first one,” she said, handing me Nancy Drew’s adventure with the old clock. “We’ll have Christmas just like always.”
“My Sunday school teacher say it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”
“Yes,” she said. “Giving is more fun too. That’s the secret of Christmas. When you have children of your own, you’ll understand.”
Mama kept on, especially as Christmas neared. Sometimes she placed a little surprise on my plate at dinnertime, maybe a Santa Claus lollypop, or bracelet made of jingle bells. When a frilly jar of bubble bath appeared in my bathroom, I knew who put it there. She’d mastered the art of giving and practiced it all her life. It was a habit she couldn’t break, and I’m glad. Thanks for sharing the secret, Mama. Now I understand.
“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans – and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit – and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused – and to save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.” Sigrid Undset, Norwegian novelist.