During the winter my Father keeps the thermometer at a balmy 50 degrees. Between my body heat and the four layers of bedding I am fine until I have to get up. Normally, I would stay in bed as long as possible until Mom yells, “It’s time for breakfast! Get ready for school!” Today is not one of those days. Today, I get up even earlier on my own. It’s the annual Christmas competition between my two younger brothers and me. The earliest bird to reach the tree first opens their present from Santa. I am undefeated ten years running until this year–1974.
As my brothers, two and four years apart have gotten older they’ve also gotten wiser figuring out the secret to winning this competition–get up way earlier than their brother. And so they did. While I was sound asleep, they woke up well before sunrise. Our bedroom, located on the third floor housed the three of us in the same room. That morning upon rising, they crept past my bed to the top of the staircase and the start of the race down the stairs to the living room. First one to the Christmas tree wins. The sound of their feet stomping on the stairs woke me up, but I didn’t even attempt to get out of bed. I knew right away my winning streak was over. Oh well, there’s always next year-1975. And that’s when life changed forever.
I was determined to regain top spot, so the following year I got up even earlier. No need to worry about having to compete with them I simply slid off the covers and tiptoed down the stairs. Knowing I was a shoe in for first place, I relaxed and opened our bedroom door which led directly to the living room and a clear view of the Christmas tree.
As I was walking towards the tree to claim my prize I noticed an apparition blocking the view of the tree. “Might this be Santa,” I thought. I stopped for a moment letting my mind play out this once in a lifetime opportunity. What do I do first, shake his hand and introduce myself? Bow? Get on my knees? What do I ask him? There were so many questions rattling around my brain. Suddenly flash bulbs in my mind, front page news, interviews, the envy of family and friends. My life would never be the same again.
Approaching the shadow, I noticed it didn’t look like the doughy looking body type I’d seen in pictures. In fact, it was the opposite. Maybe Santa lost weight? I know he needs to take care of his health if he is to deliver those presents all over the world in one evening. I continued my approach slowly so as not to alarm him. As I continued, the sun just rising filled the room. It was then I realized that what I thought was a lean and fitter Santa was none other than Mom.
I was about to blurt out “Merry Christmas!” when I noticed her doing something. Now just behind her, I stood on my tiptoes peering over her shoulder. Aghast! “You’re wrapping presents,” I was about to scream in horror. The dream of meeting Santa and fame dashed in a few moments. Before the scream reached my voice box, I lost balance and fell over backwards letting out a different scream. Mom quickly turned around while trying to hide the unwrapped presents. Lying on my back tears of both pain and mostly disappointment began to flow as the magnitude of this reality sunk in.
Mom now towering over me guiltily asked, “What are you doing up so early?” Through a river of tears I replied, “I wanted tu-tu, to beat them tu-tu, to the tree.” “Oh.” she replied. Then a few moments of silence as she determined what to do next. Probing she asked, “What did you see?” Tears subsiding, anger surfacing as I put it all together and quickly answered, “You!” I continued, “It’s been you all along. You, you you are Santa! Why?” In a soothing voice only Moms can do she answered, “Honey, there is no Santa that’s why.” Her reply had an unexpected dual affect. The tears flowed but no longer just out of disappointment at her admittance, rather from the loving way in which she replied.
She could have gone in any direction but she didn’t, she was honest. Bending down she lifted me off my back to give me a hug. I continued to sob quietly into her shoulder until she pulled me away and looked at me lovingly and said, “This is our little secret okay? Your brothers don’t need to know anything about this, yet.” Knowing that only I get to share a secret with Mom made me almost feel better than a chance at meeting Santa.
And so every year for the next five Christmases I let my brothers duke it out amongst each other for first place. I would simply waltz down later in the morning with a smile on my face knowing what I know. And when Mom walked into the room, she winked and I laughed.
Come back soon for – A Christmas Story (2020)