Oh I remember the day some kid in my class at St. Peter’s Grade School let it slip that the Jolly Old Elf wasn’t real. I got that funny feeling in my lower torso. The one where it feels like an ol’ mule has kicked your sterum yet feel like throwing up at the same time.
I struggled to breath. I couldn’t move. It felt as if I stood there for several minutes. Yet I am sure hardly any time past, as we were between classes and the bell had not rung for the new class to begin.
When I could move, I slunk to me desk and went through the motions of getting out books, and pencils, and readers and erasers. I kept thinking of the horror of no Santa. The feeling of sickness spread from my gut to my finger tips, to my neck, and down to my souls. I felt clammy and sticky, then hot and parched.
My parents had lied to me and I was devastated.
I had suspected for some time that Round Mound of Present Bringing didn’t exist. Now I had it on good authority-really what fourth grader was not the paragon of truth.
Almost every Christmas Holiday my family would travel to Tampa/St. Pete to see my grandfather and his sister Teta, who was like a grandmother to me and my brother. Often we would go downtown Tampa for shopping-I would by coins for my burgeoning collection-or for lunch. We usually ate at some ancient cafe filled with old ladies, their visiting relatives and the pre-teen children dragged along -usually against their will.
As this was Christmas Season, without the snow, I would often spot Santas trudging through downtown Tampa, as my family and I did the tourist gig. Once I counted 5 Santas from where we parked the car to the restaurant. We had to walk to the bank to get money-this was pre-ATM days.
Every time I commented on seeing a different Santa, from my parents, I would get, “I that that’s the same Santa you saw last block.” This tactic worked for awhile, until I saw two Santas at the same time. And it certainly didn’t work the time I saw a black Santa and a white Santa within a two block area. That is when they came up with the excuse that these “Santas” were the real Santa’s helpers. “Real Santa is busy getting ready for Christmas Eve Nite and his monumental flight around the world, so he has these people help him.” I noticed He had a lot of helpers in Tampa.
I was sad that next month as we headed to Florida for Christmas. I was sure there would be no presents(I still hadn’t explicated for myself that my parents were the real stand-ins for Merry St. Nick). I said nothing of my mounting fears as the miles rolled past and the cold gave way to the delta warmth of the old South.
As usual out days were filled with the shopping and the eating and even a tour of the H.M.S. Bounty-St.Pete was its home until Miami took it. However I didn’t count the Santa’s and I certainly didn’t offer to set out the homemade cookies and milk for the Man in Red.
On Christmas Eve I merely shuffled off to the bed set-up on the screened in porch and lay quietly in the fresh Florida night. The smell of jasmine filtered in and the sound of small gecko type lizards scurrying across the wall muted the silence.