There comes a time when all children question the belief in their childhood companions like the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and yes, even Santa Claus. It’s a pivotal time in our lives when reality crashes against our most cherished beliefs. For me it happened when I was eight years old and living in Kamiah, Idaho.
Like most big lessons in life it started with a crisis. My sisters and brother and I came home from school and found out Dad had been fired from his job. I could tell by the look on Mom’s face she was worried, and knew better than to ask how we were going to get by. I think my younger sisters might have asked and were told not to worry, that everything would be alright.
I guess I need to give my Mom a lot of credit for keeping our lives normal. I don’t remember feeling poor, but I knew we didn’t have a lot of money. I remember the stove oil going dry and not having heat. Mom just made sure we wrapped in blankets. This was also my first introduction to Commodities. It seemed like twice a month my Dad would scrounge up some gas for our Ford Fairlane and my brother Joe and I would go with him to pick them up.
Commodities were food from the government for poor people. It was good food and we were thankful to have it. We never went hungry and Mom’s cooking was always delicious. When I wrote my first book, Hedwig and the Battle for Human Destiny/ A Mother’s Love and a Father’s Journey. I made sure and put in a period of time when Hedwig and her caregivers were low on money. Not having money is the best way to learn what’s really important in life.
Anyway, I only remember one time when I knew my parents seemed worried. It was when my youngest brother got sick. We didn’t have money for a doctor and we didn’t have a phone. I remember Dad walking to the payphone to call the local doctor for advice but not getting any. Finally, he called Dr. Ore, our family doctor from another town and he helped him. There were many sleepless nights before my brother Pat’s fever finally broke.
I never felt poor until Christmas. Maybe it’s only my imagination but I remember Mom’s expression change when there was talk of Santa Claus. We didn’t have gas to go cut a Christmas Tree and we didn’t have money to buy one, so it looked like we wouldn’t have one. My brother Joe solved the problem by bringing home the Christmas Tree from his Fifth Grade classroom.
We didn’t have any decorations or lights because most of our belongings were in storage and we didn’t have the money to get them out. But that was just a blip. We made paper chains and strung popcorn and soon the tree was as festive as any Christmas Tree could possibly be. It was a perfect tree because we all felt fortunate to have it.
Every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Cloninger’s Market would raffle off a turkey. I’m not sure where Mom got the raffle tickets but she went to the drawing because you had to be present to win. She never won. Fate stepped in and we got two Christmas baskets given to us by community organizations . I don’t remember which organizations , but they made a big difference. Mom used one turkey for Christmas and saved one for Easter.
It was at this time I started doubting the existence of Santa Claus but I didn’t tell anyone. A man Dad knew gave him five tickets to the local lumber mill’s Christmas gift giveaway. He took all of us except my baby brother Pat, and we all got a gift. I remember wondering if this was all we were getting. Then I realized it wasn’t that important.
When Christmas Eve came I went to bed more unsure about Santa than ever. I remember praying that there was one, and praying I would understand if there wasn’t. Eventually, I fell asleep. When I woke up there was a gift for all of us. We went to church as usual and had a delicious Christmas breakfast. Then, in what I can only recall as a glow of true appreciation we enjoyed the gift of Christmas Day.
Santa Claus left me for a while. He went the way of childhood things displaced by adolescents and adulthood. It was years later with the birth of my daughter that he came back. This time forever. I know Santa Claus is real, there’s not a question in my mind. He’s as real as you or I, and he’s bigger than us all. He’s the feeling of goodwill we have for each other. He’s the generosity we show for the less fortunate and the love we have for our family.
Every big lesson is learned from a crisis. Today when politics separates us, and the value of doing what’s right and just is optional. I think about Santa Claus and Christmas . I also think of this quote from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. It’s from Scrooge’s nephew.
… I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it.
May the joy of Christmas fill your heart. May you remember the less fortunate and obligate yourself to help them. May you once again feel the magic of Christmas.