December 12, 2004

I Believe!

Margi has an excellent story about why Santa is so very important this time of year.

Go read.

I am commonly referred to in our family as the "afterthought's playmate." Meaning my older sister, Christi, is the "afterthought." There was a five year dry spell between our brother Mike and Christi. Apparently, according to family lore, Mrs. N. from down the block, after her own dry spell, had her son Jeff, and he got Mom to babylusting again. Christi owes her existence to Jeff N. It's a bit different for me, though. Eighteen months after Christi arrived, I came along, the logic behind this move being, as I understand it, hey, why not have one more while we're at it?

Christi and I have always been paired-up, as it were, because of where we line up on the family tree. That and there are eight of us, so we paired-up nicely. The fact that we're both female didn't hurt the selection process, either. We used to share a room. This was a bad idea, because as my mother puts it, "she's the sun; you're the moon." We didn't get along too well because I was an annoying younger sister and she was an infuriatingly bossy older sister. It's just the way things were. We started getting along better when we got our own rooms. Nowadays we get along splendidly. But when we were little, well...

You see, Christi has this head of flaming red hair and a milkpale complexion. I vividly remember that when she got ticked off at me when we were little, she would turn bright red. The transformation started in her cheeks. Two little red splotches would appear and then it would spread, like a rash, across her face and neck, completely drowning out the few freckles she had at that point in time in a wash of red. Her hands, however, were white as snow, clenched into fists at her sides and her knuckles were so tightly held you could see the translucent skin straining against her knobby little bones. I remember watching this transformation, more than once, and finding it so fascinating that I would completely blow off whatever she was yelling at me about. As you might imagine, my mental wandering did not please her, and she yelled at me about that, too.

One time, however, it was Santa that caused this transformation. Or rather the fact we'd missed him once again.

Christmas Eve was the coolest night of the year in our family when I was growing up. Why? you ask. Well, we opened our presents that night. Mom and Dad didn't do Christmas Day. They preferred that everyone sleep in that morning, so Christmas Eve it was. The folks used to do a lot of entertaining for my dad's job when I was younger and we always adored the food Mom would dish up for these parties, but we were never allowed to nosh on it because it was for the guests. So, Christmas Eve became the night of our cocktail party---"our" being us kids. We got the meatballs and cocktail wieners in the spicy homemade BBQ sauce which I still get a craving for this time of year. We got little ham and roast beef sandwiches. We got shrimp. And any number of other goodies that Mom would dish up.

After the Bible reading we'd nosh. We'd be subjected to Dad's brighter-than-the-face-of-the-sun movie camera lighting as he filmed the festivities. We'd then sit around and chat, just waiting for Mom to give the word. Then a mysterious errand would always pop up.

Susie would need to be picked up from work. ML would have forgotten her camera at her apartment. We needed to run to Walgreens because Mom forgot to buy film. Something needed to be run up to church. Cookies might need to be delivered to my godparents house. Or, whenever a mysterious errand couldn't be found, well, my father would take Christi and I out to look at the lights. And every year, when we returned from our errands, we'd hurry into the house, and the line our older siblings delivered was: "You just missed him! Maybe if you run really fast you can see him take off!"

Our house, supposedly, being Santa's first stop on Christmas Eve because he always went in reverse-alphabetical order to make up for all those times we Zabawas had to wait on everyone else all year long.

One year, before the dawning of the obvious, we'd returned to the house, had done the entire "You just missed him!" exercise, and, while disappointed, the loss of not seeing the Big Man himself was lessened because there were TOYS! waiting for us in the family room. We hurried down to the furnace room to remove our boots and hang up our coats. It was just Christi and me in the room and as she readied herself to go upstairs, she turned to me and it was obvious the transformation had happened.

She was furious.

Being eighteen months older than I was, the pattern had started to make itself obvious to her: we were always shuffled out of the house right when Santa was to appear. While she'd heard rumors, she didn't buy the "he doesn't exist" argument. Rather, she felt her desire to meet and chat with Santa was being thwarted by ML always forgetting her stupid camera, or Susie needing to be picked up from work, etc. It was obvious Santa showed up at our house at the same time every year. This was a fact well established in the known universe. Why, on earth, Christi reasoned, should we have to leave every time, particularly when the Big Man's schedule was apparent? It wasn't fair! After rambling on in this fashion for a while, she was dead quiet for a long minute. I just stood there and hung up my coat, not knowing what to say, but more than thankful that, for once, her ire was directed elsewhere.

"Next year," she declared loudly, breaking the silence at last, her fist raised in the air, as her face turned purple, "I'm not going anywhere! I'm staying RIGHT HERE so I can see him!" She then turned sharply, the skirt of her blue jumper swishing around her white tights, and marched out of the furnace room and up the stairs to the party. I followed.

I can still see it perfectly.

But I am now older and wiser, and realize that Santa, just like Margi said is more for parents than kids. Dad never minded driving us on "those errands." Mom never let on that there really weren't any errands to be run and was always at the top of the stairs whenever we walked through the back door, to tell us Santa was in the family room, and maybe we could catch him if we hurried. Susie, I believe, stayed late at work on Christmas Eve to provide a needed excuse to get out of the house. ML forgot her camera on purpose.

It was a conspiracy for our benefit. While I'm generally not a big believer in conspiracies and generally do my best to disabuse people of them, this is one conspiracy I'll wholeheartedly participate in.

Because, no matter how much fun Santa gives you when you're a kid, getting to be Santa is even better. Fun, fantasy, mystery, anticipation. It just doesn't get much better than that, does it? It can even be productive, too.

Just ask Christi.

A couple of years ago, in early December, her son, James, was whining about having to clear up the basement of toys. He was told to throw out the ones he didn't want anymore. Of course this is the hardest task assigned to any child: they never want to give anything up. Christi simply replied that Santa had emailed her to remind her to make room for all the new toys that he'd be delivering come Christmas.

James bought it, hook, line and sinker, and started cleaning up like a madman.

Santa has always been good. That's why I believe.

Posted by Kathy at December 12, 2004 10:05 PM

I'm sorry the tracka-backa thingie (that's the technical term) didn't work, but oh!! I'm so glad you let me know so I could read this beautiful story.

Love. It. Thanks for sharing. :)


Posted by: Margi at December 12, 2004 10:31 PM

BTW, that IS *THE* James, innit? The Cutest Redhead on the Planet, right?

Give Christi and James my love, in any case. And take a hug for yourself.

Posted by: Margi at December 12, 2004 10:32 PM

Yep, indeedy. That's him. She has to be clever to get around the lil' red head.

Glad you liked it:)

Posted by: Kathy at December 12, 2004 10:39 PM

My husband has been claiming that Maggie's (our 4 year old) tantrums MUST come from me, since HE never acted like that............... Guess he is right. I must have blocked out those episodes, since I do not recall them as vividly as you. Although I do remember saying I wasn't going ANYWHERE next year. And we didn't, if you recall. but they still got us, thanks to the extra back door on the family room. Sneaky, Sneaky, Sneaky. Love ya!

Posted by: Christi at December 14, 2004 02:08 PM

Oh, yeah. Maggie got those from you. (talk about stating the obvious!)

I'd completely forgotten about staying put the next year. How the hell did we accomplish that? Did we mutiny or something?

Posted by: Kathy at December 14, 2004 03:51 PM
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