(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
Somewhat sullenly the little girl walked down the street, hugging her sweater tight around her. It wasn’t that she was cold, but the calendar read “December” so she needed a sweater. At least, that’s what Moma said. Her knobby knees stuck out below the hem of her full-skirted cotton dress as she shuffled along looking for leaves to kick. There weren’t very many as here most of the plants kept their leaves all year long. If only she walked slowly enough her girl friend might catch up with her before she arrived at the schoolyard. Victoria always had answers to questions that she didn’t even know enough to ask about. That morning had been the usual rush to get out on time with Moma standing at the door holding her sweater and brown-bag lunch trying to make her hurry so that she wouldn’t be late. She’d run across the lawn to the house next door to collect her friend, but had been curtly informed that Victoria wasn’t ready as her hair had yet to be combed so there was no point in waiting. Here was the final block before the schoolyard and Victoria was nowhere to be seen. She’d have to wait to ask until the walk home.
This school was pretty easy. Her father expected that she be one of the top five scorers in her class. She could do that just by listening, and they didn’t give real homework here. That bothered her parents, but not her. The last assignment had to been to bring in twigs to make a holiday scene to take home as a Christmas decoration. They had each been given a stiff piece of cardboard and a small mirror. She had glued hers to the near right corner of her cardboard. Then Mrs. Wickford poured a white, slurry into a bowl between each pair of pupils at the shared desks. Each had a small wooden ice cream cup spoon to spread the white glop onto the cardboard and over the edges of the mirror. Then they were to quickly stick their twigs into the glop to create a winter scene with bare trees. Carefully she stuck her twigs toward the top of her project with a scattering closer to the mirror. The boy next to her placed his twigs evenly around his centered mirror. Mrs. Wickford told them to slide, not lift, their project to the upper center of their tables so the white stuff could set while everyone went to lunch. As soon as they had cleaned up they were dismissed. She grabbed her lunch bag and left her sweater. The morning haze was gone and the sun was warm. She and her friends sat at their usual picnic table far from the cafeteria door. The smells from the lunches they served in there were always yucky. She was supposed to buy a container of milk, but that would take time she didn’t want to waste. Getting to the playground was more important. She opened her bag to see what Moma had packed for her today: a wax paper wrapped sandwich, another packet with cookies, and a foil wrapped orange that was pressing on the sandwich. She took a couple of big bites of the dry and orange dented bologna sandwich then she squished the rest back into the waxed paper and moved on to the cookies. Moma never put much mustard on the bread so as to keep it from getting soggy. Moma never used mayonnaise, which could spoil, so the sandwich was dry and difficult to swallow. The cookies were good, but the others were almost done and she hadn’t begun her orange, so she swallowed one almost whole and threw the others back into the bag. There were no pockets in her dress so she couldn’t keep the cookies until the walk home from school. She ate a quarter of the orange, slurped the juice from the next quarter and threw the rest in the bag with the other food that was now trash. They each threw their bags into the trashcan and ran for the bars. You had to eat quickly to get out there and grab a space on the bar. As soon as a line formed it was time to go to the blacktop where foursquare courts were painted. Today she worked herself up to the server’s square and held it for a couple of turns. As always, the bell rang too soon and it was time to return to the classroom.
The girls behind her in line were talking about what they were going to get for Christmas. One said her mother had taken her to a store and they had picked out a couple of dresses, and she had asked for one of the new dolls that looked like grown up ladies. The other girl said she had gotten one of those dolls for her birthday and wanted clothes for it. Neither had visited with Santa.
After school she had walked up the hill with Jean. That was slow going because Jean had had polio and walked with a big limp. Her left leg was a lot shorter than her right. Jean had spent her summer vacation in the hospital where she had had surgery on her short leg. Jean never played foursquare or kick-ball or on the bars. Once in a while the little girl would sit with Jean at the edge of the playground and they would play jacks. She felt sorry that most of the other kids ignored Jean. She knew how it felt to watch the others and not be welcome to join them. By the time she got to the top of the hill most of the other kids had already disappeared. She looked at her watch. Time to run so Moma wouldn’t be upset that she had taken too long to come home from school.
After diner Daddy told Moma that he and the little girl were going out to take care of some business. An errand with Daddy? On a school night? And Moma didn’t protest, just nodded and scooped her little brother up to get him ready for bed. Daddy wouldn’t tell her anything, just kept shushing her and telling her to wait until they were in the car. He even let her ride in the front seat. Everything looked a little different from here so she was quiet for a bit. They drove past the street she walked down to go to school and started down the front of the mesa to the shopping center. As they parked and began walking to the stores, Daddy asked what she thought Moma would want for Christmas. Hadn’t Moma written her own letter to Santa? Daddy explained that they were to be Santa’s helpers and get something Moma would like. By then they were walking into a ladies store. The first thing she noticed was that the store smelled so good. Then there were two mannequins dressed in the New Look. One of the shop ladies had come up and asked Daddy what she could help him with. He told her that he and his daughter were being Santa for his wife and that they wanted one of the skirts like the one on the mannequin. The lady asked if they knew what size they wanted and Daddy simply put his hands out and drew Moma in the air. The skirt the lady brought was the same style in a beautiful, shimmery emerald green. She put out a cream colored boat necked top with three-quarter length sleeves to go with the skirt. Daddy, looking down to the little girl, asked her if she thought Moma would like them. She gently reached her hand out to touch the cool silky quilted skirt. Oh, yes, it was perfect. The lady carefully wrapped each piece and put them in a box.
Christmas vacation began that Friday after school. She walked home carefully with her snow scene project. Moma put it on the top shelf of a bookcase explaining that her brother wouldn’t be able to reach it there. Moma washed the dishes and she dried as they cleaned up after dinner. She worried about how to ask Moma her question. Victoria had laughed and told her that she was such a baby to still believe in Santa Claus. She really wanted Santa Claus to be real. Moma had taken her to see him at the store. She had noticed that his beard was tied on. When she asked Moma about it, Moma had explained that Santa was very busy at this time of year and that that person was an elf sent to take messages to Santa. But what about Victoria laughing at her? What about shopping with Daddy? Moma found a couple more things to wash up and the girl finally just blurted out her question: was Santa Claus real? Then she kept babbling about all the hints she had heard that year that led her to think he was just a made up story. Moma stopped, took the towel from her. While drying her hands, Moma gave her one of those slow, quizzical stares. Finally, she put the towel down, sat on a kitchen chair, and put her daughter on her lap. Very softly she said that Santa Claus was a spirit. The spirit of Christmas. Everyone could carry that spirit in their hearts. At this time of year, Santa Claus was a fun way of sharing and giving gifts. As we grew up we each were able to play Santa for those we loved and especially for little ones. Now, the girl could be part of the spirit of Santa Claus and help make things joyful for others and it was her turn to keep the secret.
Christmas Eve, after decorating the tree she and her brother were given their stockings to hang. She showed her little brother how to do it by hanging hers, then helping him to hang his own. She winked and smiled at Moma. The next morning she watched her brother tear into his gifts, and made sure Moma knew who had given her what gifts as she opened her own. Later Moma would supervise as she wrote thank-you notes to each person who had given a gift. Then she watched as Moma opened the gift she and Daddy had gotten. Moma’s eyes widened, and twinkled as she caressed the fabric. Then Moma ran to their bedroom and put on the new outfit. She looked as beautiful as the ladies in the magazines as she twirled to show how the skirt moved. For the first time the little girl with braids and knobby knees knew what fun it was to embody the spirit of playing Santa Claus.
The last word:
We both wish you a Merry Christmas and the best for the New Year.
Keep your sense of humor.