Thursday, December 10, 2015

Santa and me: The Christmas terror

Take a close look at this child’s face. Does she look like someone who truly loves Christmas? Funny, but 60-some years later and I believe I have the same look on my face every year as Christmas approaches.

Is it any wonder? I’m sure we had to be at some “downtown” department store because that’s all there was in Washington, DC, in 1950. There was only the Tick-Tock bar in our neighborhood. There was no bus service, no 7-11, and certainly no mall. I probably rode downtown in the car (just a free-range toddler without a car seat, of course) and my parents handed me over to this creepy big man with a fake beard. Notice the big fat man in the big chair in the big city is groping me. It was my first encounter with a masher. He was probably on parole for child abuse, hence the number on the side of his chair. Even now I hate his silly striped chair and the fake Christmas tree—back then they certainly could have pulled in a real tree instead of that Ricky Ricardo Copa Cabana tree. That alone horrifies me. Notice my innocent little hand trying to pull his big hairy paw off my parts that would be under a swimsuit. I wonder if there’s a statute of limitations.

The Masher Santa was sufficient to ruin Christmas for me for a lifetime. But wait—there’s more. One year when I was old enough to believe in Santa and young enough to trust everything an adult told me, I was cruelly deceived by an old woman who was a friend of my grandmother’s. It was Christmas Eve and I was at my grandparents’ house, staring sleepily at the lights on the Christmas tree, when Mrs. Ritter announced she had heard a bulletin on the radio. Mrs. Ritter told me that Santa Claus’s sleigh (and his eight tiny reindeer) had been caught in foul weather and there would be no Christmas that year. I should have been relieved that the child molester was not going to sneak into my house at night.

Even then, I was a rather intense child. So on Christmas Eve every year from then on I had a stomach ache from the stress of worrying about Santa Claus. I would pace the floors when my family was sleeping. I would climb into bed with my mother because I was so worked up with anticipation and concern that I needed extreme comfort. I heard Santa and the reindeer on the roof. I swear I did. I distinctly remember quivering in bed with my mother, hearing footsteps on the roof, lying frozen with my head under the blankets for fear that Santa would know I was awake. Remember he knows when you’re awake. I believed it all; nothing could sway me from my belief.

I still believe. Even though I had to be Santa when my children were little, I still believe. Even though I now live alone and no one fills my empty Christmas stocking, I believe. So this Christmas Eve I’ll be lying awake in my bed in fear and anticipation, nauseated, waiting for Santa Claus. And I’ll have that look on my face.

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