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Saturday, December 23, 2006

CHRISTMAS STORY #13: SANTA'S ARRIVAL

"Up on the rooftop
Reindeer pause,
Out jumps dear old Santa Claus...."

This is another of my stories of Christmas at Grandpa's house. There's a picture of the house at the top of the next blog, and some of the details of this story are included there. Just looking at that picture of my grandparent's old house with my little dog Dutchess out in front standing in the snow, brings back so many of these treasured memories.

One particular Christmas stands out in my memory. I was ten years old and still a firm believer in Santa Claus. Christmas season began as usual, with the festive preparations and Christmas shopping trips. It was 1944 and my Dad was overseas, so my Mom, sister Jeanie and I lived with my grandparents in a very old house in Stratford Ontario. My mother's family were very close, so even with Dad away, Christmas was a very special family gathering with all the relatives congregating from various parts of Ontario.

Mom gave me my allowance to buy gifts for the relatives. I went to Woolworths Five and Dime to do my shopping and found some marvellous little clay snakes with jointed bodies, that undulated and coiled like live snakes, flicking their red felt tongues. For 25 cents I was able to buy one for each of my Aunts and Uncles.

When I brought home my purchases, my mother was horrified, but I wrapped them up and put them under the tree, quite confident they would make a hit with the relatives.

A few days before Christmas, the relatives began to arrive. First Auntie Grace and Uncle Frank who drove up from Eden with their two little girls, Adele and Merilyn. Later, on a snowy night just before Christmas Eve, we went with my Grandpa and the other family members to meet the train from Toronto. Of course, the train arrived and true to predictions of "The Bextons are never on time," again this year Uncle Harold, Aunt Edith and their little boy Haroldie had missed the train. And, as usual, they would not arrive until the next morning flustered and apologetic.

Christmas Eve was a time of laughter and games. We all gathered in front of the roaring fire and sang carols, played Snakes & Ladders, Monopoly, and Chinese Checkers; told the Christmas story, and had family entertainment. If Dad had been there, he would have recited, in his resounding Welsh tenor "When Father Papered the Parlour", but this year in his absence, Uncle Frank (the family comedian) presented his tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Herbert Burped".The children's stockings were hung along the mantle, and the treats were served. Our family's traditional Christmas treats were gingerale, pomegranates, popcorn and Christmas cookies. After the recitation of "The Night Before Christmas" and the story of Jesus's birth, the letters to Santa were put out along with a dish of cookies and a glass of gingerale. Then we kids went off to bed brimming with excitement and good cheer.

This Christmas, all of us kids were crowded into one bedroom on the main floor right beside the porch. My cousin Gracie, the eldest -- a very serious, quiet 12 year old; myself, aged 10; little sister Jeannie and cousin Adele both 5; and the little ones, Merilyn and Haroldie age 3. We lay awake giggling with excitement and unable to sleep, when suddenly, up on the porch roof we heard thumping, the jingling of bells and a loud "Ho! Ho! Ho!". Santa Claus was arriving at our house!We laid in our beds, quivering with excitement but daring not to make a sound so Santa would know we were still awake. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my childhood, and something I can remember clearly right to this day.

The rest of Christmas was completely wonderful and full of magic, with all the gifts, especially the boy dolls with complete wardrobes that Santa had left my sister and I. The black and white clay Chinese snakes made a big hit, especially with Uncle Frank.

A week later, when we returned to school, I was still glowing with the thrill of our special Christmas and how Santa had been heard arriving at our house. As I began to relate the news to my classmates, one of the boys started laughing and said "Don't you know, there isn't a real Santa?"

Unbelieving and humiliated, I went home for lunch and confronted my mother. She gently explained the real story to me and told me that the "Santa" we had heard was really only Uncle Frank pretending for the sake of the little ones. It was a terrible disappointment to me. My magic balloon had been popped. But to this day, I still like to believe that we really did hear Santa arrive on our rooftop, and for me the spirit of that Christmas will always live in my memory.

BELIEVE
Children sleeping,
snow is softly falling,
Dreams are calling
like bells i the distance.
We were dreamers not so long ago,
But one by one we all had to grow.

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