December 10, 2011

The Day Santa Died

How old were you when you stopped believing in Santa Claus? 7? 9? I wanted to believe in him. I wanted to believe there was someone out there who could make my little girl dreams come true and give me all that my selfish heart desired.

I had good old Santa up there on a pedestal all right. I knew that I knew that I knew he was sweet and kind and good as gold. He never did anything naughty. How could he expect me to live that way if he didn't? That wouldn't be fair.

Unfortunately, I was only 5 when I sadly learned the truth. Santa wasn't magical and he certainly wasn't good as gold. He was our neighbor.

My parents were really good friends with a couple in our neighborhood and like all good friends, they had fun together and sometimes did crazy things for each other.

One Christmas, (the year I was 5) my dad and our neighbor decided to help each other out and have some fun in the process. They rented a Santa suit and took turns using it. My dad put the suit on, hoisted a bag of presents over his shoulder and went to our neighbor's house. He sat in their livingroom ho ho ho-ing and being jolly as he passed out presents to the kids in the family.

Then my dad and our neighbor made the switch. Our neighbor put on the suit and came to our house with a bag of goodies just for me. I remember the moment our doorbell rang. (it never occurred to me that Santa hadn't used the chimney.) My mom and I opened the door together and surprise! Santa was standing there in all his jolly goodness! I was breathless with excitement.

Mom invited him in and told him to sit in our best chair. He plunked his bag of presents down at his feet and invited me to come sit on his lap. Oh how excited I was! I ran over to him, speechless...I was going to sit in Santa's lap? What a wonderful, wonderful day!

I gingerly climbed up onto the chair and sat down on Santa's knee. "Well Judy," he said. "Have you been a good girl?" and then I knew. This wasn't Santa. I didn't know who he was, but I knew he wasn't Santa. It was his breath that gave him away. Santa's breath would smell like cookies and pine trees, snow and crisp new wrapping paper. This guy smelled like he'd spent the earlier part of the evening in the local tavern.

I turned my face away from his so I wouldn't have to smell his boozy breath one second longer than I had to. In sadness I went through the motions; I accepted the presents he gave me and, at my mother's urging I shyly thanked him for each one.

I was sad to see Santa leave that evening-he took my broken dreams with him. However, the sadness didn't last long. I had a pile of new toys to play with and I knew my nose was safe. I would never again have to sit in Santa's lap inhaling the scent of whisky again.

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