My online friend, Shirley Hershey Showalter, inspired me to write this post about a favorite Christmas memory. I signed up to get her free ebook called How to Write a Memoir, and now I get her weekly Magical Memoir Moments photos and writing prompts. (You can sign up too on her website (http://shirleyshowalter.com. ) She put these ideas into action in her recently-published memoir, Blush, A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World, available at Amazon.com. It’s the inspiring story of a girl who dreams big, breaks free of a restrictive culture, goes on to become a college president and more, all the while respecting and honoring her roots.
Her excellent blog about memoir writing has encouraged me with ideas and support to keep going with the story of growing up in a Chicago West Side rooming house where the Christmas story below took place.
I hope you enjoy this morsel of Christmas magic.
On Christmas Eve, Dad pulled out the sleigh bells from the closet. “When Santa finishes putting out all the gifts, he’ll shake these sleigh bells as a signal that he’s done. Then, we have to give him a few minutes to leave. It we see Santa, we destroy the magic, and he won’t come back.” I had two brothers, one three years older, Paul, and one almost five years younger, Billy. We watched Dad lay out the leather strap, festooned with fat brass bells, festively jingling, and exchanged gleeful smiles.
No going to bed for us to wait for Santa! When he arrived, we would be right here, ears pricked for the jingle of sleigh bells. We weren’t like those dumb kids who had to wake up in the morning to find piles of gifts. No wonder they had no faith and didn’t believe in Santa! It was obvious that while they slept, their parents just pulled stashes of gifts out of hiding to place under the tree. Santa would come while every relative and close friend was right in front of our eyes.
But now the tree was empty beneath. Closing my eyes, I imagined the brightly colored packages piled at its base. I grabbed Dad’s hand and skipped across the room at his side, twirling and babbling about Santa.
We passed through the doorway that separated our living room from the long hallway leading into the dining room. Dad closed the door to the living room, shutting out Christmas behind us. He then bent over to talk to us quietly, his tone impishly serious. “We can’t open that door until ten minutes after the sleigh bells ring. If we see Santa, he might not come back.”
We nodded our heads. “No one will open that door,” Paul assured Dad, and glared at me like the enforcer he thought he was.
The whole family was gathered in the dining room, where the grown-ups sat and the kids leaped around, jumpy with excitement. Paul pulled my hair, so I had to punch him. He slugged me back—much harder. “Owwww!” I screamed.
“Crybaby!” he taunted.
“Paul, Linda, both of you! Stop that!” said Dad.
The next moment we were grinning like maniacs, running to the closed door, pressing the sides of our heads against it, listening, then running back.
I was dying to see Santa, so despite Dad’s admonition, I dashed down the hallway when Dad wasn’t looking and pressed my face to the rug, peering under the narrow crack at the base of the door. I caught my breath and gestured frantically to Paul to come over, mouthing the words, “Hurry up. Quick.”
He forgot his enforcer role in the excitement and put his head down on the floor too, and both of us, butts sticking up in the air, saw it. Weren’t those Santa’s boots—moving across the living room floor? “Do you see that?” I whispered. Paul nodded solemnly.
“Hey, you two, get away from that door. Do you want Santa to go without leaving your presents?” called Dad from the dining room.
“We saw his boots, Daddy! We saw his boots!” I jumped up and down through the hallway.
“Stop it!” Paul hissed and pinched my arm. “You’re acting like an idiot.”
Jingle, jingle, jingle. The distinctive ring of sleigh bells stopped all conversation. More jingling and then a deep, sonorous voice, “MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! MERRY CHRISTMAS! HO HO HO.”
We kids looked from one to the other, first agape, then with huge smiles expanding our faces. We waited the requisite ten minutes. Then, Dad walked down the hall, all the kids crowding, chattering, giggling behind him, like Bremen children following the Pied Piper. Dad threw open the door to the living room, and we all burst through, hands to mouths at the sight of the glittering pile of gifts, spilling out from under the tree.