The Polar Express, the first gift of Christmas
It's not even a full memory; it's just a vague knowledge that I never liked to sit on Santa's lap. I don't remember crying but my mom figured it out early on, and consequently, there's not one picture of me sitting on Santa's lap in all the boxes of photographs my parents took of us growing up.
I was uncomfortable because I knew Santa, the one we saw in the department stores and on the streets, was not the real Santa.
There was the Santa with black eyebrows at Sears & Roebucks. So, what about the Santa at Neiman Marcus ......who had white eyebrows? What about the Santa ringing the bell--with the real beard??? And how could Santa go from wrinkly to smooth to wrinkly?? And from tall to short? And fat to thin? In the same day?
There was one time when I saw the real Santa ......and it is a story that I will never forget.
It was Christmas Eve and we lived in Kingsville, Texas at the time. My bed was next to the window and Lisa was asleep in her bed next to mine. I was five and a half. Lisa was four and a half. Of course it was winter, but even the winters in Texas can get cold. I remember the windowpane, not ice-cold as in C. C. Moore's 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, but cold, and after awhile it made my fingers and my nose too cold to stay pressed there. I had to settle for hovering as close to the window as I could without fogging the pane. And I guarantee, if you go back and look it up, on December 24th, 1966; it was either a full moon or quite close because the moonlight over Texas that night lit everything in a blue-white glow.
And then I heard the bells. I saw the moon glinting off of them way up in the sky! I saw Santa's reindeer pulling the sleigh with their legs swimming gracefully. Swimming. Gracefully. I distinctly remember that. Graceful, but with purpose. And then I saw Santa's red coat! He was too far away to see anything other than that bright red speck in the sleigh. But he was coming and he was in the sky above my house!! I quickly laid down and pulled up the covers ........and waited.
Before too long, I heard reindeer hooves on the roof!! And then I thought I heard some rustling and a creak of the door, because in that house we didn't have a fireplace. Lisa and I were very concerned about not having a chimney, but mom & dad assured us that Santa knew how to get to children's stockings who live in houses without chimneys. And then, after more rustling, a long period of nothing.
I woke Lisa up and we tip-toed out to the living room where all four stockings, now fat and lumpy, were hanging off corners of various chairs. We couldn't believe how loud the slightest noise made! Lisa pulled the string on the doll that Santa had left her "MY MOMMY SAYS I TALK TOO MUCH!" Sssshhhhhhhh .........we looked at each other panic-stricken! We didn't want to wake up mom & dad. They wouldn't be happy if they knew we saw everything Santa had left us, before Christmas morning. But we had! Our hearts were pounding in our chests. Santa had just been here!
I've never gotten over the sureness that I saw Santa through the window that night. I was recently reminded of this one evening while making dinner. The Polar Express was on TV. With my back to the TV, chopping carrots, I heard Tom Hanks the conductor of The Polar Express tell the boy in the story:
"Sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see ...”My wish to you tonight is for a full surrender of adult reasoning, and for a child's innate embrace of what is really real even if you can't see it ...........remember?
Merry Christmas Eve! And Lisa? I love you.