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Sunday, December 18, 2005Picture proof that Santa exists...
It was the third week of December 1989, the city was brightly decorated in anticipation of the big day. I was six years old and in the 2nd grade when I first heard it. A horrible rumor was being circulated in the school yard. Up on the jungle gym there was a congregation of kids their eyes focused on one person, my friend Heidi. Heidi saw me at the bottom of the gym and called for me to come up. The kids were talking about Christmas and the rumor was that there was no such thing as Santa Claus! What blasphemy was this?!! There was dissention among the ranks in the playground of PS 145!
It was a mixed bunch; some of the kids believed, some didn’t and others were on the fence. I had to admit the argument that the non-believers were making was a good one, but then again everybody knew that Santa was real I thought to myself. I mean for God`s sake, Santa had just been at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade! My dad had stood out there for hours with me waiting for Santa to make his appearance. Dad worked long hours and treasured his one day off so he wasn`t about to waste his day off standing in the freezing cold with me drinking hot chocolate if Santa didn`t exist! The only reason we even went to the parade was to see Santa! His appearance there signaled the start of the holiday season and the beginning of the count down to Christmas and my birthday! During my early academic life I was always the youngest student in class, a result of having started kindergarten at the age of four. In addition I was usually the smallest as well and classmates tended to be over protective of me because of this. So on this day they had all gathered around me to let me know the deal. They didn`t want anyone making fun of me because I still believed in Santa. That moment forever changed my life.
My dad picked me up from school that day and I wasn`t my usual hyper self. I didn’t fill my dad in on my day. I wasn`t interested in going across the street and visiting my grandpa at work before I headed home. I didn`t want to stop at the candy store and spend the dollar grandpa had slipped to me through the playground fence during reccess. I didn`t stop to gawk at the decorations in the store windows. The four block walk home was a quick one for a change. "You feeling okay pumpkin head?" he asked, I took a deep breath looking down at the sidewalk, I had an awful knot in the pit of my stomach. This was the moment of truth… "Papi today someone at school told me Santa Claus wasn’t real." He froze dead in his tracks and bent down to look at my sad face. Dad looked kind of sad himself. He knew I wasn’t ready to hear the truth," Santa is real", for a minute that was all I needed to hear...
Later on when I spoke to my older cousin Jessica on the phone about it she told me the rumors were true. She had a bunch of gifts under her tree at that very moment! I looked over to our tree, there was nothing underneath it, except my big ol’ tuxedo cat “Sam Sam the Meow Meow Man”. Jessie instructed me to check the closets. Nothing there except clothes. She told me to check under the beds, all I found was a few dust bunnies and my new Safari Barbie that had been missing since the night before. It now was handicapped Barbie, my dog “Letty” had chewed the hand off. I hung up the phone and went over to my mom to show her my Barbie.
My parents were checking my uncle`s homework when I approached them. Mom took one look at my Barbie and began wrapping her arm in white plumber’s tape she got from my dad. It looked like Barbie was wearing a cast… ”you can pretend that she was hurt on safari and your doctor Barbie fixed her arm.” I leaned into my mother twirling one of her long auburn ringlets in between my fingers, "Mami, Some kids at school told me today that Santa Claus is not real." My dad looked at me and said, "Again with this Mia, who told you this?" "Heidi", I replied. "Well she`s a freaking liar! I never liked that little girl. You can tell she`s a liar, she`s got them little beady eyes." “And Jessie, pa she told me that TiTi Letty is the one that buys the gifts. They got them under the tree now."
My dad ran his fingers through his hair in exasperation."Mia, I hate to tell you this but your cousin is a liar, she`s always lied. Her first words were a lie. She can’t help it , she takes after her father’s family!" Mom looked at my dad and started laughing, "Honey let me handle this." "No Maggie! How the hell is that girl gonna tell la nena that Santa isn`t real? Just because he doesn’t visit her house doesn’t mean he doesn`t exsist in ours." I could tell my dad was upset, my mom and my uncles were laughing. Whenever my dad gets angry the most outrageous things spill out his mouth and my mom can’t help cracking up. Mom looked into my eyes and asked, "Well pumpkin what do you believe, here in your heart?" I told her I didn`t know and gave her the speech the kids had given me about parents buying the gifts and the Santas in the malls all being fake.
Mom took a minute and then asked me to make a list of the things I had been told, she assured me there was an explanation for it all... and she did explain it all.
She told me that Santa was indeed real but that when a child stopped believing in him he stopped visiting that child`s house. He was then taken off of Santa`s toy list and it was up to the parent to purchase the kid`s gift. That`s what had happened to my cousin Jessie and some of the kids at school. My mom pointed out the fact that we never had presents under our tree prior to Christmas morning ; yet when we awoke on Christmas there`d be so many gifts piled around the tree we were lucky to see the tree. This was true, I had never come across any gifts hidden in our closets and my mom didn`t keep any areas of our apartment off limits to us. Oh yeah and the elf dust, all of our Christmas presents always had silver and gold glitter sprinkled over them...my parents used to tell us that the elves did this to make sure no one sneaked under the tree before the sun arose on Christmas morning and opened the gifts without the whole family being there. If you tried to open a gift the elf dust would be disturbed and the gift inside would disappear without a trace.
She asked me. " Mia do we ever go out without you kids?” “ No mami.” “ How would we shop, you guys are always with us? Do you think we go out and get all those gifts on Christmas Eve? We`re here with you or at grandmas on Christmas Eve." Hmm she`s right, I thought. How on earth would they get all that stuff on Christmas Eve without us knowing? My mom also brought up the fact that even though we never wrote Christmas letters we always had just what we wanted underneath the tree on Christmas morning.
Every year my parents would take us to Rockerfeller Center late at night a week after the tree was lit and my dad would put each of us as close to the tree as possible. We would whisper our Christmas wishes to the tree. My mom said that our wishes traveled to the North Pole in the air and hung over Santas workshop like snow flakes until the elves copied them down on paper.
As for the Santa in the malls yeah, they were fake but for a good reason they were raising money for charity. Only the Santa that appeared at the end of the Macys parade was real, and the only reason he was there was to remind the children of the world that he really did exist. And what about the letter Santa left us every Christmas on the plate where the cookies we baked him had been? That wasn`t my parents handwriting, it was really fancy lettering! My father had the handwriting of a serial killer and my mom couldn`t do anything that fancy in gold letters! Plus it was written in GOLD! Where on earth would my mom get a pen with gold ink?! We weren’t millionaires you know. Oh yeah and the alfalfa and water we left out for the reindeers was always gone, just a few stems here and there strewn across the fire escape remained as evidence that the reindeers had been chowing down while Santa attended to business in our apartment. Everything my mom said made sense. My God this woman was fantastic! Not only did she have the power to fix my Safari Barbie but she was the smartest woman on earth! Hands down and I was lucky to have her as my mom!
As my mom explained my doubts away I looked at my uncles for reassurance. My moms younger brothers, 11, and 12 were the closet thing I had to big brothers. They were like Gods to me. My parents took over the job of raising them after the unexpected death of my grandmother when I was 2. My uncle Abbie had been staring at me the whole time my mom was talking to me. When I was done it was he who said, "Mia , Santa’s real. Chino and me saw him once when we were little." My uncle Chino quickly nodded his agreement. The next day at school I told my friends everything my mom had told me and they were shocked.. some wouldn`t believe me no matter what I said .
Christmas Eve finally arrived, by the time we finished baking cookies for Santa it was time for bed... of course I didn`t fall asleep right away on Christmas Eve. We always had a sleep over in my uncles room. Uncle Abbie would let me crash on his bed and he’d sleep in a folding cot next to me for that one night. We stayed up watching Christmas movies every now and then checking in channel 4`s Santa tracker. Slowly we all passed out one by one. I drifted off to sleep a little happier that night secure in the knowledge that Santa was real.
I was in a deep sleep when I felt my mom nudging me to wake up, she whispered,"Mia! Mia!" My eyes seemed glued shut and I struggled to open them and to wake my ears up to make out what ma was saying, “Shhhhh Mia come here, Santa was here ! Shhhh nena be quiet you`ll wake the others.” As I got up from my bed I noticed I was covered in elf dust! I looked on the floor and there was elf dust every where! Around my bed, my uncle’s cot, my baby brothers crib, and it led to the living room. I woke up my uncles and we went out to the living room to investigate. As usual there were lots of presents under the tree all covered in elf dust. I ran to the biggest one addressed to me and my mom reminded me that the sun wasn`t up yet. The presents were still protected by the elves spell and dust so I couldn`t open one up yet...my uncle pointed to the plate that had been filled with cookies when we went to bed. On the plate there was a letter from Santa , in it he wished me a happy birthday and thanked me for believing in him when all my friends had stopped, and there were Polaroid pictures! Pictures of Santa in my house! Pictures of him standing over my me, my uncles, even holding my baby brother! There were pictures of him coming into my house through my fire escape! Oh my gosh Santa was real and I had proof!!! After our vacation was over I went back to school with proof in hand that Santa was real. All the kids were amazed at my pictures. I think that year a few retained their faith and others regained it...I know that it kept me believing for a few more years.
Now I look at the pictures and I laugh, I can see that one of my uncles was pretending to be asleep and was smiling as Santa stood over him. I recognize my dad`s black work boots tucked into his Santa pants. I laugh now that as a six year old I didn`t know my mom was a master in the art of calligraphy or that she had several gold ink pens purchased from Golden’s Art Supply store a few blocks from where we lived. It was she who wrote Santa’s thank you notes every year!
Now that we are all adults the job of keeping Santa alive for the new generation has been passed down to us. I’m the one who now eats the cookies and writes Santa’s “Thank You” letter and leaves it on the plate next to the half empty glass of milk. My uncle Chino is the one who empties the dried alfalfa out into the garbage and pours the water down the sink. We don’t have a fire escape anymore but we live on the last floor of the building so he strews the stems in front of the door leading onto the roof. Uncle Abbie the very same one who told me he had seen Santa as a child is the one who sprinkles magical elf dust on the gifts and tells my little cousins his son among them, the story of how Santa came to visit us on 109th street after I almost stopped believing in him. After he’s done telling the story he always shows them the pictures and the kids are always amazed. Those photos have become a family legend now, they are kept in a locked box and only taken out on Christmas Eve.
Those pictures have served us well,they kept me and my siblings innocent just for a little longer than usual. They’ve kept our little ones believing when others have tried to get them to take a step away from their childhood before they were ready to. I don`t think my parents realized the magic they were creating when they snapped those pictures. I`m grateful for it, because as a result I still believe in the magic and spirit of Christmas, after all we have picture proof that Santa exists.
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