Yesterday's Magazette

11 – I Had Never Heard of Santa

I Had Never Heard of Santa

By Jim Condon

After the two-week vacation, I felt glad to get back to my kindergarten class. There, my friend Sidney stood by the sandbox and waved both arms and motioned for me to join him.

Sidney’s dark brown eyes sparkled beneath his shiny black hair.

“Santa Claus came,” he said

“Who came?”

“Santa Claus!”

I couldn’t think of anybody by that name.

“Who’s that?”

“You know, Santa. He brings things. Presents you open.” Must be some nice uncle of Sidney’s, I thought. “And our Christmas tree touches the ceiling,” he added.

“A tree inside your house?” Why would anyone let a tree grow indoors? Dumb.

“Sure, a tree. With lights.” Sidney crinkled up his face. “A Christmas tree where Santa leaves his presents.,You never heard of, Santa Claus? I can’t believe it.”

I was getting a little sore at my friend.

“C’mon, Sidney, you’re making all this up.”

“No. Come after school. I’ll show you.”

Until that January in 1924, I had never heard about Santa Claus. My grandmother, who had raised me from a baby, had never mentioned Santa. She had strong ideas about child raising and refused to do what she called, “Deceiving a child … filling up a boy’s head with a lot of silly nonsense.”

To this day I don’t know how she sheltered me from all the Santas in the stores where we shopped and on the streets as we walked to our church. But when Grandma made up her mind to do something, she usually did it.

After kindergarten that day, I followed Sidney up the stairs to his family’s apartment, all the time not believing a word of his crazy talk. I had to see for myself.

Sidney swung open his front door and in the corner of the darkened living room I could make out the triangle shape of a tall tree. Sidney stopped and plugged a wire into the wall. Tiny lights of every color lit up the walls and ceiling, and the front of my jacket. Red, gold and blue balls dangled from branches and glowed.

Beneath the tree, lay yet-unworn clothing in heaps. Next to that, new toys. What I wouldn’t give to play with that little bitty car. Lucky Sidney. Why should he have a special tree and new things when I couldn’t? He must have known what I was thinking – the way he looked at me.

I couldn’t speak. I could only think that some magic person must have visited here, just like Sidney had said. My friend then told me about Santa’s red suit and his beard and the pack on his back. Suddenly I believed.

Then Sidney’s mother shuffled into the room and scared the magic out of me. Speckled by the lights, she glared at me while she talked to my friend. “Sid-ney, what if it got around we have a tree? You shouldn’t have brought him.” Her eyes never left my face.

“Jimmy doesn’t know our friends, Mama. He’s not Jewish and doesn’t go to Temple. He and his Grandma go to their own church.”

The conversation was puzzling to me and I never understood until years later.

I had to say goodbye to Sidney later that year when my mother claimed me from my grandmother and took me to another city far away.

When the next Christmas rolled around, my mother and stepfather trimmed the tree and I played Santa Claus for my new little sister.

Later that evening, I sat down and thought of my friend Sidney who had first dizzied my eyes with his many-colored lights and his talk about Santa Claus. Then I thought of my grandmother, now so many miles away and alone.

I wished that she could be having fun on Christmas, too. Then, maybe in her own way, she was enjoying that special day, I thought. Then I smiled. “But I bet she doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.”

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