The Christmas when I was four was the most magical of my life. We celebrated at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandpa was proud of his new vibrating recliner and the silver Christmas tree with the rotating light that threw alternate colors across the shimmering branches.
The family gathering was small. Grandma and Grandpa had two children, my Aunt Mart and my dad. Aunt Mart and Uncle Bud had three children — Dee-Dee, Don, and Joe. Dee-Dee and Don were quite a bit older than me and my brother, Dale. Joe was a year or so younger than Dale.
It didn’t seem so odd that Grandpa left the house after dark when we had assembled for a visit in the living room. There were always cows to feed or other animal care chores happening at unusual hours, late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.
Shortly after Grandpa left, Dad said, “Do you hear that?” We listened — a tingling sound in the darkness out by the lane. He looked at me. “I think it’s sleigh bells.”
“Reindeer sleigh bells?” I wiggled off my Grandma’s scratchy brown sofa to get nearer to Dad who had pulled a chair from the dining room and sat close to the front door. “Santa’s reindeer?”
“Maybe,” he draped an arm around my shoulders while I stared at the front door as the jingling bells came closer. Dale and Joe approached as we heard the door of the enclosed porch scrape open.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” accompanied heavy footsteps. I squealed and clapped my hands in excitement as Santa Claus entered my grandparents’ living room. He dropped the large sack he carried on the floor and squatted down, opening his arms wide as three small children, me and my brother and my cousin Joe, barreled into them. “Merry Christmas! I heard there were some good boys and girls here!”
I have no memory of what Christmas present Santa pulled from that bag for me that night. I remember coveting my cousin Don’s present. He must have been in 8th grade headed for high school because he got a huge set of pens and pencils in all shapes, sizes, and colors–an early beginning to my love affair with office supplies. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to receive a present like that from Santa Claus.
Once pictures were taken and presents were distributed, Santa said he had to get on his way to other houses to take presents to other children. “Good night and Merry Christmas!” We heard sleigh bells drift away as his reindeer drew his sleigh toward his next stop.
A few minutes later, we heard Grandpa come in the back door, having completed his chores with the cows. Dale, Joe, and I rushed to the kitchen to cluster around him. “Grandpa, you missed Santa Claus! He came and he brought us presents and we heard his reindeer!”
Grandpa wrapped all three of us in a hug. “Really? Santa Claus was here? What did he bring?” We led him to the living room to show him our new treasures.
I’m sure all of you reading this have guessed who played Santa Claus that night. I consider it a measure of the magic that it was some twenty years later, several years after my Grandpa died, before I put all the pieces together to make that guess.