I’m not sure of the year; perhaps it was 1964; maybe 1965. All I know for sure is that it was Christmas and I was in Kindergarten.
My hometown didn’t really go all out for Christmas… save for one time that I can remember. It was either one of the years stated above and also the year that town padres elected to do away with the cheesy string of colored bulbs that went from light pole to pole across Calvert which was the proverbial ‘main’ street through downtown. They bought these new tinsel decorations in holiday shapes that were self-contained with a few lights in them. They were perched near the tops of the same light poles. To call attention to these new decorations and in an attempt to spur local commerce, the City Council elected to have a full on Christmas celebration at the City Hall complete with the Karnes City Jr High Band playing Christmas carols, candy, cookies, hot chocolate and a visit from Santa who would, as it’s customary to do in small town America, arrive on the back of a fire truck. Various stores elected to stay open until 9 pm that same night to accommodate Christmas shoppers.
But beyond all of that was the pièce de résistance for me…a visit from Santa Claus who would, as is always the case in small town America, arrive via a fire truck.
I remember wearing my car and mittens. It was cold that night and I was even colder, shivering in fact, partly due to nerves. I mean come on!! Santa Claus was in town and arriving in the flesh and I really wanted that Mickey Mouse Talking Telephone, the Bennie and Cecil game, and this cooler than hell thing called a Hostess Buffett, a plastic French Provincial sideboard that came complete with a plastic silver tea set, plastic crystal goblets and serving tray, plastic silver ware, napkins, plastic fruit and a 16 piece service for four set of plastic bone china patterned after Edme by Wedgewood.
The problem was, I believed the parental hype. You know, that power plays that moms and dads use to keep kids in line by telling them that Santa knew if they behaved or not. Well, I was a holy terror. Days earlier I’d had a fight with my sister and ‘sassed’ my mother a couple of times. I was nervous Santa knew and I certainly didn’t want to be called out by him in such a public forum.
I remember holding my mother’s hand and every time a gust of wind blew, I could smell the hot chocolate. As the sun called it a day, the city’s new decorations came on and illuminated the crowd below. It was a lovely sight. The band played carols and as they played the last note of some barely discernible Christmas song, we heard a siren. The fire truck came around the corner and the single most emaciated Santa Claus I’d ever seen was on the back of the red truck, holding on the dear life. Children screamed with delight. Parents took photos of their happy little charges .
Mother and I got in the Santa Claus line. I remember feeling absolutely giddy. It was Christmas after al and there was a real sense of community. In addition to that, we were doing something out of the norm. I was seeing people outside my sphere of reference for them. Everything was different. I was standing on the sidewalk in front of City Hall on a cold December night. I’d never ever had a reason to stand there at that time of day. I’d driven under the new decorations, but never stood under them at night. Karnes City looked so different. Stores that usually closed at 5pm were open. Lights were on that usually weren’t. Sidewalks that seemed to disappear at night from inactivity were for that night anyway, teeming with humanity.
My attention turned back to the matter at hand.
I could hear some of the other kids asking for things. But I remember, their requests were generic….a doll, a truck and so on. I had a firm grasp on the make, model and serial number of every item I wanted. I suddenly got a bit embarrassed.
It was my turn to have a one-on-one with the boney Man In Read. He picked me up and placed me on his lap. I looked at him sparingly, avoiding eye contact. I had a feeling he could smell the guilt oozing out of my pores. I answered his perfunctory questions. and lied through my teeth when I told him I’d been a good girl and that I promised him I would obey my parents forever and ever, Amen. And then I leaned forward and asked for my toys in a whisper in his ear.
When I finished, he nodded, chuckled, then touched my nose as he helped me off his lap. For my time and trouble, I was handed a little bag containing a clump of hard Christmas candy that had obviously passed its shelf life years earlier. My mother promptly took the bag from me and trashed it.
She got me a cookie and some hot chocolate which I ate while following her down the sidewalk.
We were going shopping in downtown KC….at night. I was excited.
I can remember marvelling at how different everything looked. Life, I would learn later, always looks different when you look at life differently.
We went in a few stores and mother bought few things. A sugar cookie shaped like a bell kept me preoccupied. The next thing I knew we were back outside, walking to our car.
A cold wind gust made me stiffen. My nose felt frozen. We arrived at the car, packages went in the back seat; I climbed into the front hoping to get warm and go home and think about the things Santa would bring me in just a little over a week..
And as we drove down Main Street through downtown, we passed by the City Hall. My hands and face were pressed against the passenger seat window with the hopes of getting one more glimpse of old St. Nick. The Christmas party was over and the crowd had dispersed, but as we drove by, I saw Santa Claus talking to a few men. They were laughing. He removed his hat, wig and beard and underneath all those white synthetic fibers, stood brunette haired man who accepted a cigarette from one of the men with whom he’d been talking.
I said nothing…just sat back down in the car seat. I felt as betrayed as a five or six-year-old could feel. Damn!!! Deceived. Bubble burst; disappointed….taken on an emotional slay ride by a fraud in a cheap, read suit. I can remember in later years wishing I that I hadn’t seen what I’d seen and if I had to see it, why couldn’t I have been more gullible and not fully grasped what I’d witnessed? I tried convincing myself that this was just one of Santa’s helpers…a Doppelganger, perhaps.
Maybe I should talk to my mom about this. Nah…she couldn’t justify it no matter how hard she tried. It was too late. Besides, I naturally something of a contrarian anyway. I lived in a glass half empty kind of world. Reality was what I sought, no matter how much it hurt.
A few days later, my mother asked me what I wanted from Santa Claus. I told her what I’d seen that night and that I knew Santa was a fake, a con…a lie.
She looked at me expressionless. Then she asked, “What about the Easter Bunny?”.
I shook my head no.
“The Tooth Fairy?
“Nope, not anymore”, I replied.
“What about leprechauns, pots of gold and rainbows?”
“No..No and NO!!! And I’m fairly certain that honest politicans and faithful airline pilots are figments of the imagination, too!!
She just stared at me for a second or two, then sighed. “Well, I guess my little girl is growing up! When did that happen?”
She shook her head. “Well, come on then. Let’s have a special tea party. Whadaya say?”.
We commemorated my emotional growth spurt with finger sandwiches, petit fours and Vodka stingers.