There is so much to appreciate during the Christmas season. And, like many of you, I’m certain, much of that appreciation revolves around the memories of Christmas mornings. Each Christmas which I’m blessed to experience I always think back on one of my earliest Christmas mornings, the one when Santa was indeed in the house.
It was in Oak Lawn, a Chicago suburb southwest of the city of my birth, a Christmas morning moment when, for the first time in a life that had only tallied a little over six years, that I truly experienced the magic of Christmas.
As for the incident, well, it involves what, or, to be more precise, what I, or, to be more precise, who I saw when I snuck out of bed in the wee hours of a Christmas morning after being tucked away hours earlier, for a change, far more easily than I ever approached repose at the end of any other day of the year. After all, on Christmas Eve, what kid would ever fight to stay up after hearing the tried and so very true parental admonition that Santa surely never comes until all in the house are slumbering. Of course, every true believer in St. Nick has such a powerful curiosity about the machinations that unfold on that magical night, and I surely wasn’t the first to sneak out of bed to try to catch a glimpse of The Jolly One in the house dropping off the goods.
While Mom and Dad and big sis Joanie wrapped themselves in the arms of Morpheus, I tiptoed down the short hallway from my bedroom in the back of the house, crouched down and peered into what was called in those days the front room. There, I saw a short squat figure right by the tree. In a room illuminated only by the shaft of a streetlight coming through the picture window, I thought he looked a lot shorter than he did when my mom took me downtown to see him at Marshall Field’s weeks before. Got to be him, though, I thought.
I instantly got that rush of excitement and sensation in the pit of my, at that time, very small stomach. As any kid knows, should Santa ever see that he’s being watched by a young set of eyes, that adversely impacts the gift count.
So I silently made my way back to my room, elated that I’d seen THE MAN, and slid back into bed, thinking to myself, hmmm, I wonder if I’m the first ever to catch Santa while he’s working! I knew following Christmas vacation, once I headed back to join my first-grade mates at St. Christina Elementary School, I’d be the one who’d have the best Christmas story to tell.
The next morning when I came down the hall far faster than hours before when I’d crept so silently and burst into the room, the first in my family to do so, I gazed at that live Christmas tree, an absolute must in 1958, and the gifts that surrounded it, with my eyes drawn to one item in particular.
It was something, I’m sure, that was deemed impossible to wrap, a short squat inflatable Bozo punching bag, one of the ones with a sand pouch on the bottom so that when little guys punched the clown’s face, Bozo would pop back up regaining verticality, ready for another lick in the chops.
Of course, it was a different era back then, a time when many parents thought nothing of buying their boys cap guns, bows and arrows and toys such as those Bozo inflatables so they could practice balling up their little fists and deliver some socks right in, what my dad used to call, the kisser. I think in my mom and dad’s case, the discussion before purchasing such an item, one which was probably Dad’s idea, ended with their mutual agreement that any time I spent punching Bozo was less time punching my sister.
As soon as I saw Bozo and, of course, delivered the first of many socks right square in that big old red proboscis, I realized the pure adrenaline I felt peering around the corner from the hallway hours before when I thought I’d seen the Jolliest of Elves in the house was a rush I should have saved for a more genuine moment. Yes, at that Christmas morning moment, I realized then that a Santa in a darkened hall an hour or so after midnight, by dawn’s early light becomes a Christmas clown.
You know something? That may have been the earliest indication that I probably wouldn’t quite ever have the SAT scores to get into Harvard. I mean, even at six, I surely should have known the real Santa would be a whole lot taller than three feet!
Enjoy this very special morning with those you cherish, and I’ll check back in with you shortly after the old man that is 2022 slinks out of the room, hopefully taking with him a whole bunch of inflation and tanking financial markets and the first cries of a much happier 2023 baby is heard.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]