First Christmas

Posted by on Dec 12, 2014 in Short Stories | Comments Off on First Christmas

First Christmas

Santa Claus is in my house! He arrived just moments before when a thud shook the house, followed by loud banging, sounds of sleigh bells, and stomping on the floor above us. I was five years old and paralyzed with excitement: Santa had flown all the way from the North Pole to my house in Ashland, Kentucky.

The grown-ups said, “What’s happening?” They looked surprised. A loud “Ho, ho, ho” sounded from the top of the stairs. “It’s Santa Claus!” Mother said.

More Santa-laughs came from the top of the stairs as shiny black boots appeared, then red pants, the white fur at the bottom of his coat, a white-gloved hand, a big belly. Then there was all of him. He looked just like the Santa Claus in the movie I watched about a thousand times on our projector. But movies were pretend; this was real.

Santa looked at me and said, “Merry Christmas, Timmy.”

He knows my name! I tried to say something, but all I could do was wave at him. Off in the distance, I heard my mommy and daddy telling me to go to him.

Santa pulled something out of his pocket: He had my letter. I saw my crayon marks on it, and the grown-up words Mother wrote. She said she would send it to his house at the North Pole, and she did, because here it was in his hand. I asked for the shiny red tricycle I spotted at Kresge’s. The bright red plastic fireman’s hat that sat next to it would be nice, but the tricycle was what I really, really had to have.

The man who sang on the record said that Santa knew if I had been good or bad. Did he know about all the bad thoughts I had about my dumb sisters? If he found out I had been bad, he would leave lumps of coal for me and no toys. My grandpa told me this, so it had to be true.

Santa held out the letter. “Don’t be scared, Timmy. Come and help me check my list.” I sat on his knee. His snow-white beard tickled a little and scratched my face, and he had coffee-breath like my grandfather. He read my list out loud: “A red tricycle, a fireman’s hat, a pony…” I looked at the bare tree sitting in the corner and wondered if lights would suddenly appear, like in the movie.

He put the letter back in his pocket. Uh-oh. I could feel it coming—The Question.

“Have you been a good boy this year?” he asked.

There it was. I was doomed! If I answered, “No,” there went the tricycle. I tried to smile my most innocent smile, but my face was stuck. I answered, “Uh-huh. Most of the time.”

Santa chuckled and said he would see what he could do, since I had been good “most of the time.” He stood me up and Grandma brought my younger sister, Ruthie, over to sit on his knee. Ruthie squirmed, whimpered, and started crying. Mother rescued her from Santa Claus—I couldn’t believe it.

Mother and Daddy told Phoebe, my older sister, to go to Santa. She acted like she didn’t want to, but she sat on his knee. She said something about dresses and other girl-stuff. I didn’t hear much because I was still feeling amazed that Santa was kneeling right there; he knew our names, he knew what I wanted, and he still had to fly back to the North Pole to pick up his stuff.

He stood up and told us all to go to the windows so we could see him fly away. Then, with a wave of his hand and a “Ho, ho, ho,” he wished everybody a merry Christmas and went up the stairs. I stood at the bottom thinking about sneaking up after him so I could get a peek at his sleigh. Daddy called me and told me to go to a window or I might miss the reindeer.

There were those sounds again—feet thumping, a muffled call to the reindeer to giddy-up, and sleigh bells fading away. I pressed my nose flat against the window, but it was snowing a lot so I couldn’t see very far. Someone said Santa was gone, but he would be back later that evening.

Bedtime arrived. Ruthie was tucked in, then it was my turn. I hugged and kissed everyone good night, then I followed Mother up the stairs to my bedroom, running my hand along the banister that Santa had touched. When I reached the top of the stairs, it tingled from the magic he left there.

I had lots of questions for Mother as she helped me change into my pajamas and brush my teeth. She tucked me in, turned out my light, and talked about how Christmas was about the birthday of baby Jesus. I asked her: Did Santa visit baby Jesus? When Jesus was a kid like me, did he ride horses and shoot outlaws and bears?

She said those were hard questions, and that I should go to sleep so Santa could come back. Would he make our tree pretty like in the movie? Yes, she thought he would.

I lay in my bed looking out my window at the falling snow. Soon I drifted off to sleep and dreamed that I was on a shiny red tricycle, zooming down the hilly streets of Ashland.

My eyes popped open. It’s Christmas morning. I looked out my window and saw the weak light of dawn on the white snow that had fallen overnight. I jumped out of bed and ran to my parents’ room. They were, of course, asleep. I called their names until they began to move. Daddy, in a grumpy voice, told me to go to Phoebe’s room and wake her, but to let Mother wake Ruthie. I was not to go downstairs until he or Mother took us down.

Phoebe’s door was locked, so I had to knock and call her name several times. Finally, she answered that she was awake. “Now go away,” she said.

When we went downstairs, the house was dark, and the double doors to the living room were closed. I had never seen them closed before. Mother turned on the lights in the dining room and kitchen, and said that Ruthie and I had to eat breakfast while the rest of the family gathered. Eat? On Christmas morning? I asked if I could have breakfast in the afternoon instead. She said no. We had to wait for Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt Gladys, and Uncle Lawrence to arrive before we went into the living room. I tried to eat, but not even Snap, Crackle, and Pop could make me forget about what might be waiting for me in the other room.

Finally, everyone was gathered and the moment arrived. Daddy opened the doors, and the hallway was filled with a soft light. I looked in and saw that the Christmas tree was bright with lights.

There were red, and white, and green, and blue lights, and lights in the shape of candles bubbling away. Ropes of golden tinsel circled the tree, while ornaments and strands of silver icicles hung from the branches. A silver angel, holding a long, silver trumpet, stood on top of the tree. Santa had made the tree pretty, just like in the movie.

A shiny red tricycle with a bow tied around the handlebars sat next to the tree. I heard people talking, but it was like they were far away. For a few seconds, I couldn’t move or talk. Santa had remembered, and he decided I had been good enough to get my wish.

I felt like I was in a dream as I walked over to the tricycle. Daddy asked if I was happy. All I could say was, “Yes.”

Grandpa said there was something else for me hidden behind the tree. I looked. A red fireman’s helmet sat there, the big golden badge on its front gleaming at me. I said the only word I could think of: “Wow!”

Grandpa chuckled as he put the helmet on my head, then he picked me up and placed me on the tricycle’s shiny black seat. His breath smelled like coffee, just like Santa’s. He patted my cheek with a work-roughened hand, then stepped back and put his arm around Grandma.

When I began my first ride around the living room, they all stopped and looked in my direction. From underneath my new helmet I looked at their faces, and a tingly warmth started in my chest and spread over my whole body. I felt like hugging everyone, even my sisters. It was kind of like a fever, but it was a nice fever.

I pedaled around the living room, then into the hallway that led to the dining room. I rode around the table a couple of times and was heading back to the living room but stopped. Grandpa and Daddy were standing in the doorway watching me.

“The house isn’t really big enough for a trike,” Grandpa said.

“No. I think he’ll have to ride it outside,” Daddy said.

“You take care of everything here, and I’ll go outside with Timmy,” Grandpa said. There was something about the way he said my name…

We put on our coats, hats, and gloves, and Grandpa carried the tricycle outside. I rode around the cement walk that bordered the house for a while, then Grandpa said, “I think you might be ready for a little hill. Wanna try it?”

He carried my steed down the cement stairway that led from our house to the public sidewalk. Blackburn Avenue ran in front of our house and worked its way up a gentle incline to 13th Street, which was the way Grandpa took me.

I was pumping along in front of Grandpa but had to stop a couple of times because my legs were tired. This was strange, because I had walked, run, and skipped up the road to 13th Street. Riding was harder than walking.

“There are no cars coming,” Grandpa said, “so this is a good place to try it out. I’ll wait here, and you go on a little way till I tell you to stop.” I leaned over the handlebars, pushed the pedals, and rode a few yards uphill.

“Okay, turn around,” Grandpa said. “Now come toward me. You’ll speed up, but if you keep your feet on the pedals, you’ll be okay. Ready?”

“Uh-huh,” I said. I pulled my Fire Chief hat down tight, rang the bell on the handlebars, and started rolling. In no time I was going about a hundred miles an hour. My feet flew off the pedals and I was going to crash into Grandpa. He held his hands out in front of him and said, “Whoa!”

Everything became a blur, but suddenly I was in the air, Grandpa was holding me, and my hat was on the ground next to my trike that was tipped over onto its side.

“Don’t be afraid, Timmy. I’ve got you,” he said. Something clicked in my head. He set me down, I picked up my trike and put my hat on.

“Let’s go home,” he said. “That’s all the excitement I can stand in one day. I had a late night, so I’m a bit tired.”

Another click.

On our way back home, I felt warm and safe because my grandpa was behind me, watching over me. I was also feeling rather proud because I had discovered his secret, but I would never tell anyone. Never, ever, ever.

(published in Storyteller Magazine, October-November, 2013)