I was suffering from Santa Claus overload that year. The year was 1956 and I was 10 years old. A critical year for those youngsters like me who actually chose to believe in Santa Claus. It was a tipping point of sorts when all the innocence of youth was being eroded by what we heard from our friends and our general contact with the public.
I was a big Santa fan. He had never disappointed me. Every year since I had any amount of mental faculty, the jolly old elf had visited our farm and deposited untold gifts under our Christmas tree. Even in tough times, he showed up. I held that to be a badge of honor for the old man who raised reindeer in his off time. Although I never received everything I wished for, he was batting around .600.
My parents played along with my imagination, and since I was the oldest of six kids, my siblings believed about everything I told them about Kris Kringle. That time has long since vanished, but it was fun while it lasted!
The jig was almost up the year I was wishing for a new bicycle. Upon chasing rats through our granary, I climbed up a mound of oats at one end of the building when I felt something hard beneath my farm boots. After a short time of digging, I unearthed a shiny, new bicycle. Where could have this come from?
I really knew the answer, but decided to bury that thought and leave be what should be left. After all, Santa could have been storing it there, right? Somehow, the bike miraculously found its way under the tree that year. I never mentioned my premature discovery.
Like most parents of that day, mine took an interest in trekking to the nearest department store and having me divulge my wishes to an official Santa. The trip I remember most was to the basement of the Woolworth Department Store in Sioux City. Like the now famous film, “A Christmas Story,” I stood in line with dread as Santa ho-ho-ho’d his way through a lineup of sniveling, sobbing urchins.
I would have been more interested in following my dad to the hardware section, but instead I strode up to the jolly old elf and told him I wanted a fish in an aquarium. Really, a fish and an aquarium were the furthest things from my mind, but they were about all I could think about under duress.
It seemed strange to me that I spied another Santa greeting kids just across the street as we left Woolworths. Had I spent my collateral on an impostor? I think whatever insecurity and cynicism I have at this age started there in the basement of Woolworths.
That was also the year my dad hired a neighbor to visit our farm, dressed in a Santa suit and arriving on a wagon pulled by horses. When I heard him hit the porch door, I headed for the back of the kitchen and hid behind the cook stove until this guy left.
I could hear my parents and Santa calling gently from the dining room to come out from my hiding place, but I was not to be dislodged and the farm Santa went home with a whimper. I’ll give my folks credit for trying, but a kid can take only so much Santa in a year.
Santas will be running rampant in the upcoming weeks. Some will look good, some will have migraines. Most will be happy to celebrate the New Year after their stint in the velvet chair.
But, for those few, short years leading up to my “enlightenment,” Santa was a real exciting part of the imagination. In my mind I still feel that new bicycle buried beneath my boots in that granary and how excited I was to imagine that the old man from the north had actually left it there for me.
I choose now to let that memory alone.
See you next time. Okay?