Monday, December 27, 2010

Failing Illusions

Christmas when I was six. 
There comes a time in the life of every child, when they learn that Santa isn't real. For some it happens as they approach middle school. For others, it happens much, much earlier.

I figured it out when I was 4 years old.

My grandparents had moved back into town the previous summer, and were now living in a small retirement complex where my Grandma Nena still lives to this day. My parents had driven down with my brother and I on Christmas Eve, or perhaps the day before. After 20-odd years, some of the details are hazy in my mind.

I do remember the tree that was set up in the corner of the living room, positioned so you could see it whether you were in the living room or the kitchen. Presents were piled up beneath the tree, and I happily helped my mother unload our presents from the car to put under the tree.

The day progressed, and there was much laughing and talking, food and card games. While the adults were playing bridge (or perhaps it was hand and foot?), I played in my Grandmother's bedroom, chattering at myself the whole time. In the course of my play, my doll fell off the bed onto the opposite side of the room, and when I went to retrieve it, several presents wrapped in brown paper and ribbon were piled on that side.

Confused, I pattered back out to the living room, announcing, "Mama, Mama, we missed some of the presents that need to be under the tree!"

I imagine the panicked looks that the other adults must have been exchanging, but I honestly don't remember them. My mother looked at me with a surprised expression, "Where are they?" she asked.

"Next to Grandma Nena's bed! Come look!" I told her, leading them to her bedroom.

But when we got there, there were no presents.

I was now genuinely upset. "But they were there! I promise!"

"Well, if they were, they're not now. But it's time for dinner now, sis," said my brother as they lead me back to the front room.

We settled in and around the dining room table, and soon all thoughts of the mystery presents disappeared from my head. After dinner, Grandpa Jim insisted on all of us piling into the van and driving around town, looking at all of the pretty houses glowing with Christmas lights and good cheer. When we got back to the house, Aunt Di read my brother and I the Christmas story.

Soon it was time for presents, and I fleetingly thought of the packages I'd seen earlier, but they never made an appearance that evening. Before long it was time for little girls to be in bed.

The next morning, there was much excitement because, of course, Santa had been to visit during the night. When my sleepy head padded out to the front room, what did I see beneath the tree?

Brown paper packages tied up with string.

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