It's been a full year since I submitted my first article to the Partial Observer. During these few weeks that our server has been down, I genuinely missed that portion of my daily routine where I would drop in on PO to see what my fellow columnists had posted. It was also rewarding to have people ask me when the website would return – it let me know they were actually reading! There were a few things that I had in my mind through November that I would have liked to have expressed my opinion on, but they were items where timeliness was essential. Now I find myself at the deadline point, and the only thing on my mind is Christmas. So much to do, so little time! I even considered emailing Mike Thomson to ask for a two-week bye, but that's not my style. So, since Christmas is on my mind anyway, I was reflecting back over Christmases gone by and pulled this favorite recollection from the vaults in my gray matter.
It must have been 1993, because I'm fairly certain my daughter was in fourth grade. A friend at school had caused her to question her belief in Santa Claus. I set aside my initial instinct (to go pull all the little girl's hair out for messing up my fun) and concocted a plan to rekindle the magic in Brooke's mind.
We had recently had a faculty Christmas party at school and one of the staff members had dressed as Santa. I borrowed the costume and began plotting. I knew I couldn't count on being fortunate enough to catch the real Santa in my living room; after all, I had looked for him as a child myself to no avail. Oh, there was that one time when I peeked out the window and just knew I saw his sleigh going right down the middle of my neighborhood street. And then there was this other time when I was an adult and my kids were just toddlers, piled up in bed with us on Christmas Eve. We all happened to be looking out the window at the stars in the night sky, picking out the big dipper, when a shooting star pierced the inky darkness. We all saw it simultaneously; the kids began to clap and squeal, "Look! There goes Santa!" I'm not sure how they ever managed to actually fall asleep that night, so great was their excitement.
I wasn't ready yet to let go of that joy. And so, I approached our kindhearted neighbor, Hal Craig, with my Santa suit and my plan. For whatever reason, Brooke had dubbed him "Mr. Peabody" when they first moved in. The name stuck and we all finally just began calling him Peabody. He was tall but slender, not exactly the portrait of Santa. He did have perfect white hair, though, and was willing to don a white beard to match. We hoped for a cool evening in our Southern locale so that the padding he would use would not be too suffocating.
Our family's tradition has always been to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, thereby leaving Christmas morning for Santa. Brooke was noticeably subdued during dinner and even while opening her gifts, and I believed I knew why. I feared that her attitude would rub off on her younger brother; it made me anxious to see my plan in action before she had a chance to tell Stephen there was no Santa.
At long last, all the extended family members had returned to their own homes. The dishes were washed and put away; the remnants of Christmas wrap were picked up to leave a clean area for Santa to place the kids' bounty for the year. Most importantly, the milk and cookies were ready by the fire. We had indeed been blessed with a cool night – in fact, it was below freezing. I worried about Peabody having to walk down the street in such cold weather. While he was our "next-door" neighbor, our homes were still a good distance apart.
At midnight, I heard the front door open. I was surprised to feel my own heart pounding away in my chest. I tiptoed first into Stephen's room, farthest away. At seven years of age, he was a bit large for me to be picking up, but I couldn't wake the sleeping child and I didn't want to procrastinate one moment too long. With him snoozing on my shoulder, I went in and gently shook Brooke. She rubbed her eyes and peered up at me.
"Get up, get up!" I whispered, imparting as much urgency as possible using hushed tones. "Follow me!"
She didn't look any too happy to be roused from her sleep, but she finally managed to put both feet on the floor. Our little party crept down the stairs ever so gingerly. When we got down just far enough to be able to peek between the rails and see into the living room, I sat down on one of the steps and pulled Brooke down beside me. I didn't say a word; I just pointed towards the fireplace.
Brooke's eyes went from their sleepy, half-mast position to a full-blown, wide-eyed gaze. She had spotted Santa, the most beautiful Santa I had ever seen, tucking something into her stocking. She gasped out loud and I clamped my hand down over her mouth.
"Shhhhh! You'll scare him away before he has time to leave your presents."
And then, her eyes narrowed with suspicion. A quick survey of the three of us on the steps had led her to conclude that someone was missing.
"That's Daddy dressed up in a Santa suit," she said in an accusatory tone.
"I don't think so, Brookie. Go wake Daddy up and tell him to come see Santa!"
She sprang to her feet and ran up the stairs as quickly as she ever had, not because she was planning to do what I told her to do, but because she expected to find the bed quite empty. By the time she returned, Santa was munching on a cookie and admiring our Christmas tree.
"Oh, my gosh! Daddy's in bed sound asleep and I couldn't wake him up. But Mom, that really is Santa Claus! Sarah didn't know what she was talking about. I'm so happy!"
I smiled knowingly. I had been trying to tell her that exact thing, but sometimes you just have to see things with your own eyes to believe. The only step in the entire plan that went awry was that I was never able to get Stephen to wake all the way up, or at least, not enough to digest what was taking place in his very own living room. It didn't matter, though, because his big sister convinced him that she had seen Santa and he was, indeed, quite real.
I will always remember 1993. Brooke remembers it, too. I never told her who "our" Santa was until a couple of years ago, when I learned that Peabody had passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly. It saddened me that I had never provided her the opportunity to thank him in person for the gift he gave our family that Christmas. I do have the comforting thought that he enjoyed it most of all. When I spotted him in his driveway early the next morning, I waved him over to enjoy a cup of coffee with us. As we watched the kids speed around the neighborhood on their new bikes, I thanked him for the delivery.
"Huh?" he looked at me quizzically.
"I was just telling you I appreciate your help so much last night, and the kids obviously love the new bikes you brought them."
"Oh, I've been meaning to tell you how sorry I am that I couldn't get over here. We had unexpected guests drop in and I really couldn't leave the house." Peabody's eyes twinkled with delight. Once you take part in spreading a little magic, I guess it's hard to stop.
I've had a hard time getting in the spirit this year, but now that I've written this, I think I know just the ticket - I'm glad we have a costume rental store in the area. How could anyone put on that red suit and not feel merry?