One of my most cherished Christmas memories is the Christmas of 1962. It was the first and only Christmas spent with all 3 of my sisters, my Mother and my Father. It was also the Christmas I learned there really is a Santa Claus!
I was ten years old that Christmas and of course no longer believed in Santa. In fact, I can’t ever really remember in truly believing as I seemed to always know my parents bought my presents and put them under the tree.
One night about a week before Christmas I was in my room reading under the covers with a flashlight. Of course, my parents thought I was fast asleep. I could hear them talking in the kitchen. I wasn’t really paying attention at first but I could hear something in the tone of their voices. So, I closed my book, turned off the flashlight and lowered the covers from over my head.
“Gladys, I simply don’t know how we are going to provide a Christmas for the girls this year. I can’t get any overtime in at work and with the bills for the doctors and the hospitals I just never seem to have anything left,” my father said.
I had been very sick the Christmas before and nearly died. I had been in the hospital nearly two months and my parents were still paying the bill. Mom had just had Rosie in September and there were doctor and hospital bills to pay for that hospital stay as well.
“I know Bill, but I have managed to save a few dollars from the household money. We can use that and provide at least a small Christmas,” my mom replied.
I had known that there wasn’t a lot of money but until that moment I didn’t realize how bad things really were. I quietly crawled out of bed and got my Christmas wish list off my dresser along with my little note pad and my pencil. I wadded up my list and threw it in the wastebasket and wrote a new list. I asked for a birthstone necklace, a pair of red tights and new mittens. I really did need the red tights and the mittens and I did want a necklace, but the one thing I wanted most was left off the list because I knew it was expensive. I didn’t want my parents to feel bad about not being able to get the gift for me.
I started to crawl back into bed and then stopped and pulled my wadded up list from the wastebasket. I looked at the one word I had written on my list. In big letters it said “Kissy”. My eyes welled with tears as I wadded the list up again, threw it back into the waste basket and got into bed.
A few days later my dad announced to all “get your coats on young ladies because we are going Christmas shopping!” I helped my little sisters, Becky who was seven and Rhonda who was five, put on their coats. Mom bundled up baby Rosie who was only three months old. Dad went out and warmed u[ the car. When we got into the car I gave my dad my Christmas wish list and the Christmas wish lists I had helped my sisters make.
I was really excited because I had mowed grass, raked leaves and scooped snow for our neighbors and saved almost $20.00 to spend for Christmas. When we got to the big discount store where my parents loved to shop I saw a big crowd of people in the middle the parking lot.
What’s that crowd of people over there daddy?” I asked.
“That is a toy give away. Every year the firemen and policemen in our city give toys away to families who have no money so there will be something under the tree for their children on Christmas morning,” my father said.
My mother said, “Yes, they show the true spirit and meaning of Christmas by what they do. They give with love to those who need it most!”
We walked on into the store. My parents knew I wanted to shop so they let me go my own way and told me I had fifteen minutes and then I was to meet them at the snack bar. I hurried off on my own.
I knew exactly what I was going to get my mom, a bottle of perfume called Lily of the Valley. She loved lilies and I knew she didn’t have much perfume. I headed for the cosmetic aisle and there was the exact perfume I wanted. I was so excited because the big bottle was on sale for $2.99.
After getting Mama’s gift I headed for the men’s department to get my dad some warm woolen socks. I had seen Mom darning his socks and it seemed that his socks were really past the point of being mended anymore. I knew he needed socks because he often had to work outside in the cold. He just didn’t earn enough as assistant pastor at our church and worked as a plumber with one of my uncles to make ends meet. He would come home and soak his feet they were so cold.
After getting my dad a big package of warm socks I went to the toy aisle. I had told my parents I was going to get the crayons and coloring books my sisters had asked for. I got them each a Christmas coloring book and a box of 16 crayons.
I wasn’t sure what to get Rosie then saw a cute tiny teddy bear holding a candy cane rattle. She was so little she would probably like anything I thought to myself as I put the teddy bear in my cart. I had always loved stuffed animals and thought she would too.
I headed to the front of the store, paid for my things and went to the snack bar. My parents were there waiting and asked me to watch my sisters while they did their shopping. Becky and Rhonda sat there with little grins on their faces.
“We got you a present Bobbie and we can’t tell you what it is,” chirped Becky.
“We know you will like it,” chimed in Rhonda.
“I know I will like anything you get me for Christmas,” I replied as I hugged them both.
I still had some money left so went to the counter and bought a small package of chips and a small soda. My sisters and I sat there talking and sharing my treat.
Suddenly Rhonda squealed, “Oh look, it’s Santa, it’s Santa!”
Becky jumped up and said, “Oh it is Santa and he is headed this way.”
Santa walked right up to my table and leaned over and asked, “Have you been good girls this year?”
“Oh yes Santa, I have been a good girl”, Becky said.
Rhonda looked down and said, “I was naughty Santa, I wrote with ink pen on all our dollies. I said I was sorry but the ink won’t come off.”
The store Santa let out a ho ho ho and said, “If you said you were sorry and meant it then I think you qualify as being on the nice list little girl.”
He looked at me and said, “And have you been good this year?”
I replied, “I am a little old for Santa now but yes, I have tried very hard to be good and to help my mom because she just had my baby sister.”
The man looked at me and smiled and then handed each of us a candy cane and went to find more children to talk to. My sisters were both excited about seeing Santa and knowing they were on the “nice” list.
A few minutes later my parents came to get us. My father was pushing a cart loaded with packages. I picked up my bags and we all headed for the car. As we were walking through the parking lot a man walked up to us. He had an arm full of toys. He stopped my parents and said, “I have something for your children.”
My dad smiled and then said, “We don’t have vouchers for toys sir.”
The man replied, “That’s okay we have some extra toys this year.”
He handed my mom a cute stuffed tan puppy and said, “This is for the baby.”
He knelt down to my sisters and gave them each a baby doll. Rhonda started jumping up and down saying, “Look Mommy, see what he gave me.” Becky took the doll she was given and looked at the man with her huge blue eyes and said, “Oh thank you this is just what I wanted.”
The man turned to me and placed a big box in my arms. I was so surprised but managed to stammer “Thank you sir.”
My father grabbed the man’s hand and shook it saying how kind and generous he and all those with him were. The man smiled and said “that’s what Christmas is all about. I know you and your family as you and your wife visited my mother when she was so ill last summer. You came and prayed with her every Saturday and that meant so much to her. When I saw you and your family walking through the parking lot I just had to do something for you.“
We got into the car and I finally turned the box around to see what was in it. As I looked through the cellophane paper I gasped. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There in the box was the one thing I had really wanted for Christmas but given up hope of ever having. In the box was the doll I had longed for…Kissy. She was a big doll with short straight blonde hair and blue eyes. When her arms were pushed together her lips puckered and she made a kissing sound.
Tears of happiness fell down my cheeks and I learned at that moment two very big truths.
The first, God hears the prayers of a little girl. I had prayed and asked him to make this a good Christmas for my family so my parents wouldn’t be so sad. I could see on my parents’ faces that they were both happy.
The second, there really is a Santa Claus. The storybook jolly man with a white beard and a red suit may not be real but Santa is. Santa can be anyone at all. A fireman giving toys out in a store parking lot, a lady who bakes cookies and takes them to a nursing home. Santa can be anyone at all who gives freely of themselves to others.
The following year my world fell apart and there was never another Christmas quite like that as my family was no longer intact. The magic of that Christmas carried me though many other Christmases that weren’t as joyous or happy. The true gift given to me that year was not just a doll I wanted but the knowledge that by giving we also receive.
I have had Santa visit my life since that Christmas. I have even had the honor of being Santa to someone else. It didn’t always happen in December either.
I grew up and had children of my own. Each of them asked me if Santa was real. I shared this story with them.