It happened 60 years ago this week, but I still remember the disappointment I experienced that winter day in December 1952, as if it happened yesterday.
It was morning recess and my first grade buddy, Terry, and I were talking about what we hoped Santa would bring us for Christmas. I wanted a real bow with arrows, and Terry wanted a new baseball glove.
A second grader named Adam heard us talking about Santa and started laughing. “Do you dummies still believe in Santa Claus?” he sneered. Before we could respond he answered his own question. “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Your parents buy the gifts and put them under the tree with Santa’s name on them.” And as he walked away he snapped, “And there’s no tooth fairy either.”
In that brief moment of dramatic denunciation Adam had challenged not one, but two, of our core six-year old beliefs. Was it possible there could be no Santa Claus…or tooth fairy?
Terry and I spent the rest of recess assuring each other that Adam didn’t know what he was talking about. After all, both of us had received dimes from the tooth fairy not two weeks earlier, and, as for Santa, well, Adam was just wrong. I can’t say for sure, but from the sarcasm in Adam’s voice I think he was just trying to heap upon us the same disappointment he had no doubt experienced a year earlier when some grumpy second grader had tried to shatter his own belief in Santa Claus – apparently with some success.
Just to be on the safe side, on the way home from school I told my big sister, Kathy, what Adam had said. Like Adam, Kathy was a second grader and I knew she would tell me the truth. After listening to my story she looked me square in the eye and emphatically said, “Adam doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Yes, George, there is a Santa Claus.”
My big sister’s word was all the proof I needed, and at school the next day I told Terry so. As an only child Terry didn’t have a big sister to ask, but he had talked with his parents and they had assured him not only was Santa Claus real but the tooth fairy was too. That settled it for both of us. But little did either of us know that real living proof was only a week away.
Christmas was the following Thursday, and as the big day approached I was more excited than ever. On Christmas Eve our family was gathered around the kitchen table enjoying a supper of soup beans and cornbread when one of my older brothers suddenly stopped eating and in a half hushed voice said, “What was that?”
We all fell silent and listened. At first the only sound to be heard was that of the wind coming under the seal of the backdoor, but then from the living room came a gentle but distinct sound of jingling sleigh bells. For an instant my heart stopped. Then my sister and I scrambled from the table, nearly knocking our chairs over as we made a mad dash for the living room.
The living room was dark except for the soft glow of the bubble lights on the Christmas tree, a red cedar, standing in a corner just to the left of the fireplace. We stood in the doorway looking around the room and listening, but the sound of the jingling sleigh bells had vanished along with whatever, or whoever, had made the sounds.
“Look in the fireplace,” one of my older brothers encouraged. My sister and I hurried over to the open fireplace where only ashes remained from a fire the night before. Together we stooped down and peered into the fireplace. There in the ashes, only dimly visible from the glow of the Christmas lights, we saw it – a huge boot print. “Looks like Santa’s boot print to me,” my brother exclaimed.
Sure that we had just missed Santa going up the chimney, my sister and I turned and raced through the kitchen then out the back door, finally stopping in the middle of the backyard. With the rest of the family gathered around, we gazed up into the starlit sky, and there right before our eyes was a blinking red light slowly moving across the sky. “Look, it’s Rudolph leading Santa’s sleigh”, my sister shouted. And then, still looking up at the glowing red light, she exclaimed, “See, George, I told you there’s a Santa Claus.”
The next morning there was a real bow with arrows (rubber tipped) under the tree for me from Santa, and Terry got his ball glove from Santa too. When school resumed in January I proudly told my story to Adam and all the other kids, about how we heard the bells jingling on Santa’s suit, saw his boot print in the ashes, and even saw Rudolph’s blinking red nose as he lead the other reindeer across the sky pulling Santa’s sleigh. Some of the older kids just laughed, but Adam didn’t laugh and from the look on his face I think he believed me.
I suppose there could be a scientific explanation for what happened that Christmas Eve in 1952, but somewhere, deep inside, there is a part of me that still believes it’s true. “There really is a Santa Claus.”
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.