Darkness filled most of the small white frame house on Cypress Street in Pittsburg, Texas. A small bedside lamp cast a warm glow on the book from which my grandmother read Christmas stories to me. Silently, I lay beside her, excited and thinking about Santa’s pending arrival at any minute.
The year must have been about 1952 or ’53. Why we were at my father’s parent’s house for Christmas fails to come to mind, but I do recall I had not yet started school most likely meaning I was about four years old, five at the most.
Going to sleep was the farthest thing from my mind. Memories of my grandmother reading to me, or engaging in simple play activities like cutting pictures from a catalog, or making toys from empty spools and string are among some of the best. No doubt, I was enjoying her recounting stories of the season. Foremost on my mind however, was jolly Saint Nick and what he may have in his bag for me.
Then, I heard a noise. It came from the living room. The bedroom door was ckosed, so I couldn’t tell for sure. It also meant I couldn’t see the Christmas tree with it’s lights still glowing in the living room.
I listened carefully, but my grandmother continued to read. Then, I heard it again. This time I was sure it was a bicycle bell, the kind that bolted to the handlebars and was activated by the rider’s thumb. “Ding-ding. Ding-ding.”
Before I could think about what was taking place, my grandmother closed the book, turned off the lamp and whispered in my ear, “There’s ol’ Santy Claus. We better go to sleep or he won’t leave us anything.”
My heart raced one minute and stopped the next. Santa was in the house and I was still awake! I scooted under the bed cover, pulled the pillow around my head and closed my eyes so tightly; nothing could have pried them open. “Please, let me go to sleep quickly,” I thought.
Fast forward about 30 years. I’m watching my children play games in the glow of the fireplace at our house in Center, Texas, and listening to their excitement about Santa coming to visit. “Bed time kids,” I announced. “Better get to bed and go to sleep if you want him to stop here. He stops at the houses where children are fast asleep.”
Off to bed they went. “If only they would do that so willingly every night,” I said to myself. “Got those toys put together, Santa,” the kid’s mom called out to me.
“Won’t take long.” Visions of slumber danced in my head.
Insert tab ‘A’ into slot ‘B’ and secure with slotted screw ‘12’ the instructions read. Just how hard could it be to assemble a little girl’s playtime kitchen? Obviously harder than the degree of difficulty I was prepared for on that particular Christmas Eve.
Midnight, then one in the morning crept by as I worked to finish the assembly of Santa’s goods and ensure that all needed batteries were properly installed. I thought about how many times my parents must have faced similar Christmas Eves making sure that Santa’s delivery was on time, completely assembled and ready for smiling faces come sunup on Christmas Day.
I recalled that night long ago that I heard Santa at work in my grandmother’s living room. Christmas morning, when I saw my first shiny bicycle, maroon and white with training wheels, little did I realize the “Ding-ding” of the mechanical bell was probably my frustrated father attempting to fit all the parts together, performing the task out of love for his children.
Not wanting to disappoint young hearts, I stayed with this chore out of love for my children on yet another Christmas night 30-plus years ago until everything was arranged and ready under the Christmas tree … just as the pale blue light of dawn announced the arrival of one more Christmas morning in the 1980s.
I came to realize, as no doubt my parents had done before me, that Christmas is all about the children. Christmas lives in the heart of a child. And often times, adults best understand the true meaning of Christmas through the heart of a child and through giving the gift of love.
Merry Christmas! And may we all enjoy the season with a gift of love through the heart of a child.