A Christmas Memory

Getting the two young boys to sleep on Christmas Eve, like so many their ages, was an exercise in futility. In an effort to corral the two boys, their parents had asked their aunt to sleep in the room with them. She slept on the lower bunk, with the younger of the two, while the older boy tossed and turned atop them in his bunk.

The older boy, two and a half years his brother’s senior, dwelled on whispers spread in fits and breaths at school. Whispers that Santa wasn’t real. Whispers that it was all a lie. Staring at the popcorned ceiling, the boy listened to the whispered words in his mind, tugging at the frays of his memory. Could it be true? Could this season all be a charade? It must be. The whispers made too much sense.

But the boy dared not voice his doubts, he had two younger brothers that still believed. He shifted in his bed, head probing for a cold part of the pillow, the traditional nervous anticipation keeping him from sleep on Christmas. Would he tell his brother? Could he repeat the whispers? He flipped to face the wall, a Miami Dolphins pennant decorating the white. He wouldn’t tell the baby, obviously, but maybe his other brother deserved to know.

His brother and aunt rustled in the bunk below.

“Go to sleep,” she said. His aunt normally slept over on Christmas Eve, as did Abuelo and Abuela. The three added to the excitement of Christmas morning, offering but a prelude to the pajamaed pandemonium that would ensue as other family members arrived for breakfast. They all must have been in on the lie, every one of the adults. They all claimed to believe in Santa, but, more likely, they were party to the intrigue.

There was no Santa. How could there be?

“What was that?” the young boy asked.

The older boy sat up, his young brother tumbling out of his bunk.

“I’m sure it was nothing, Christopher. Come back to bed.”

The older boy peered down over the railing. His brother stood frozen, the zipper of his red foot-pajamas down near his belly button. The younger boy turned slowly, arms out.

“What are you–”

“There it is again!” The younger boy leaped for the aluminum blinds that covered the only window in the room.

The older boy climbed down from the top-bunk, eyeing his aunt, who wore a smile and half-heartedly tried to get his brother back in bed.

The younger boy thrust aside the aluminum blinds, not taking the time to pull the drawstring. “Dave, look!”

“What is it?” his aunt asked.

The older boy approached the window, his younger brother obstructing most of the view. The bedroom door opened behind him. He looked back.

“What’s going on?” his mother said, standing in the threshold with his father just behind.

The older boy nudged beside his brother, who pushed back for a better view.

“Look!”

The older boy leaned in, his nose practically against the glass. He saw nothing at first, then…

“Santa!”

The figure walking along the sidewalk was undeniably Santa Claus; the belly, the red coat trimmed in white, the floppy hat, the full sack slung over his shoulder.

“Santa!” his brother screamed again, now hopping up and down.

The older boy stared out at Santa as he ranged across the sidewalk. With hands pressed to the glass, the older boy craned his neck for a better look. Santa had moved too far down the sidewalk.

“Can we go out there?” the younger boy asked.

Their father put a hand on their shoulders. “No, we can’t go out there. He won’t stop in our house if we go out there.”

“And you guys have to hurry and go to sleep!” their mother said. “You need to be asleep when he comes in.”

Reluctantly, the boys settled back into their bunks. The older boy lay with his heart thundering in his chest. It was the whispers that were lies. He smiled and snuggled down against the new cold on his pillow. He couldn’t wait ’til morning.

***
This is probably my most vivid Christmas memory. For years, my aunt, Tata Christy, and my father’s parents, would spend the night on Christmas Eve. They would be there as we set out the cookies and milk, and even carrots for the reindeer. My brother’s and I each wore matching red foot-pajamas. Once we grew older, Abuelo and Abuela moved to spend Christmas morning with my younger cousins.
The Christmas Eve described above was one of the last ones they spent with us, but it was the most memorable. As it turns out, Santa was played by my dearly departed, paunch-bellied Tio Emilo, his amiable and loving personality (along with his belly) giving him the perfect disposition to play the part of Santa.
Looking back on it, I smile. It was a wonderful moment in my life, and a lasting memory I cherish. I can’t thank my parents enough now, and I hope to provide my own children with such memories one day.

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