When I was a kid, I never liked to sit on Santa Claus’ lap. My mom used to keep our family photos in an old shoe box that we kept in a closet, I don’t think there’s one picture of me with the big guy. I loved what Santa brought me, but I wanted no part of getting to know him better. I was perfectly fine with the two of us keeping our distance. He could do his thing and I would do mine and we’d both be happy.
But, I can tell you the exact day he died!
Sears to the rescue
A few years after figuring out the real truth about his existence, or shall we say non-existence, my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I rambled off a list of the latest toys and games. My knowledge of 1970s inflationary pressures, supply and demand, and the weak dollar were pretty minuscule, but I had learned at an early age that if an item was included in the toy section of the Sears Wishbook Catalog that showed up in our mailbox each November, I wanted it under my Christmas tree.
I had circled in pen and turned back the corners of the catalog to everything that caught my eye. It never dawned on me that the number of items I wanted far outnumbered the number of things left off my list. I wanted everything from an electronic football set to action figures to a kid’s drum set. I was dreaming and in my dream I must have thought we were the 1970s equivalent to Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. And boy was I wrong.
If that wasn’t annoying enough, I offered to help my mom by writing out in detail the name of the toy, page number, and catalog number of everything I wanted for Christmas. Oh, I’m a helpful one!
Can you say, “greedy little punk!”
Take a hint!
A few days before Christmas, my mom asked me to go with her and help with the grocery shopping. Of course, before we even got on our way, I started whining that I was hungry. My mom said she would get me something to eat, but she had to first stop at the bank to cash her check from work.
Keeping her word, my my mom took us to the Red Barn, an old fast food chain, a cross between Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds, to get me something to eat. She didn’t eat much herself. She told me that she would eat whatever I couldn’t finish. I didn’t think twice about it, I was in my own little world.
In the grocery store, my mom seemed to take forever. She kept looking in her purse and counting up the money from her check that had come in a little envelope with the bank’s logo. While she wasn’t looking, I threw whatever junk food I wanted into the cart without a second thought.
Before heading home, my mom remembered that she needed to stop at Peoples Drugstore, a cross between a pharmacy and department store, for wrapping paper. Bingo! I instantly viewed the side trip as my chance to get an early Christmas present. To get to the wrapping paper, we would have to walk past the toy section. While I slowed down to peruse the Matchbox toy cars, my mom looked again in her purse, but this time something was different.
She told me that we had to leave.
I whined that I wasn’t done. In the sternest voice my mom ever used, she told me to put the car down that I had in my hands and that we had to leave immediately. When I looked up at her, I saw fear in her eyes. She wasn’t playing. She wasn’t joking around. I could see that she was worried that she had lost her money.
We retraced our steps back out of the store. I had never run that fast before. Under her breath, she scolded herself for misplacing the money. This was in the days before ATM machines and since we didn’t have a ton of money, that little envelope probably held a significant portion of what was going to keep the family afloat until my parents’ next pay day.
In that moment, I realized that life isn’t about a mythical, plump old man who wears a red suit, lives with his elf friends, and one-night-a-year travels the globe in a sleigh with eight flying reindeer, handing out presents. Instead, I learned that life can be hard.
The moment of truth
We got into the car and my mom checked her purse again. Nothing. She rummaged through her coat pockets. They were empty. Finally, she looked on the floor and caught site of the envelope. It must have fallen out of her purse. I got a bad feeling in my stomach. Before we went into the store, I had been rooting around in the purse, looking for gum, the sugar-free kind that she had always carried on her. Of course, my mom didn’t say a word about the pain I had put her through or possibly losing all her money, but we both let out a sigh.
Yes, Santa died and life became real that day. I started understanding more about money and the haves and the have-nots, but I learned something else: life isn’t always easy, but the real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with material things. It’s about Jesus Christ’s birth, family and those we love and appreciate. I learned too that my mother, the real Santa of the story, had a heart of gold.