I have no pictures for today’s post, but I wish that I did---I’d give anything for a snapshot of Son#2, at four, hiding from Santa. Keetha’s sweet post about her own eight-year-old, with his own nervous visit to the Man in Red, kindled the wonderful, silly, sad, funny memory that I still cannot tell without giggling.
The oldest three children are close in age, and so that on this Christmas, they were all dressed in their Christmas finery, lined up in the car like little mannequins, and taken to the tiny, tiny grocery store in a nearby town, where promises of SANTA!! PICTURES!!! BALLOONS!!! CANDY!!! FLOWERS FOR MOM!! had been festooning the windows for weeks.
On the appointed day, we made our appearance, driving the several miles from home all gussied up for our one chance at the Santa-op. We opened the little flappy-screen door, with its flat metal crossbar whispering “Pepsi Cola” in faded, hand-worn letters, and entered the crowded fluorescent box, scented with PineSol and Vicks and the onion bins and the scent of the fresh meat being flung onto the big butcherblock for cutting. The whine of the bonesaw and the chatter of the crowd competed with the jolly carols blasting from the little Philco set on the front counter.
We spoke to friends, acquaintances, folks from church, from up and down the streets, from our own little rural area---even people with no children in tow were in the crowd, all in the spirit of the thing and the free refreshments and red carnation corsages (which would show up at churches next morning in heretofore unknown numbers, like an out-of-season Mothers' Day brigade).
The preponderance of red fabric in that crowd was nearly blinding; you HAD to wear red---plaid or solid or reindeered or velveted or petticoated or vested---to have your Christmas picture made. Everybody knew that. And the bow-tied little boys in sweater vests vied for discomfort with little girls in scratchy dresses and lace-topped socks. They fidgeted and hopped and touched things and yawned, and a lot of the little girls, presaging today's pageant-primps with their aura of AquaNet, rubbed their carefully-arranged curls against their Mamas' wooly coats until their bows hung limp.
The line snaked forward, as I’m sure we all wondered where on Earth the Santa Throne WAS in that close-aisled, familiar place. Every couple of minutes, a lightning flash from the far left corner, way back beyond the freezer case and into the dogfood section, would indicate that we were steering in the right direction.
On we went, until we could spy the big red curtain suspended in the corner, and through the crowd, glimpses of the red and white promise of SANTA. We whispered to each other that he WAS here---REALLY here, and we were going to see him. I don’t recall how I thought three children were going to sit on his knee, innocently confiding their Christmas wishes into his furry ear, but no matter---only two would brave the unknown, and one would falter.
We were next in line, and DS2 started to tug at my slacks. “I don’t WANT to,” he said. “But it’s SANTA,” I replied, probably adding immeasurably to the CON-column. “Don’t you want to tell him what you’d like for Christmas?”
“I wrote a LEDDER,” he replied, inching backward as the small girl in red taffeta slid in a swish like running water from Santa’s knee. We moved forward into the light, with DS #1 and Caro stepping confidently up onto the red-blanketed step and onto the foot-high platform, which crackled with each child's entrance and exit, built as it was of 2x8's laid across the big sacks of Gaines and Jim Dandy.
They took their places, with her on the Big Man’s knee and DS at his side, but my errant one was nowhere to be found. I looked around; next in line pointed back down the aisle, where I could see the people parting like wheat in a breeze.
And by then, with all the folks fore and aft, and the photographer all but tapping his Florsheims in irritation, while his helper in the elf costume with a big stockin' runner frowned with her eyes, we proceeded, my two, where there should have been three. A few words to Santa from the brave two, a smile, a snap, and we were stepping down out of the light, and off in search of the vagabond. Today, I would no more turn my back on a small child in a crowd than I’d fly, but this was another time, and even if I didn’t know everybody there, some of them knew lots of them, and others, others---on and on in an interlocking knit of acquaintance which was SAFE, somehow.
So we went in search of Dear Son---if he’d been visibly upset or if he’d cried or evinced any real fear, I’d have been with him like a shot, comforting and cheering him, but he’d just tugged his hand away and escaped. We went the way he had gone, then we walked across the ends of the aisles, looking down the spaces through crowds and buggies and displays and tables of refreshments, and no little boy of mine.
I stood the two in front of the cereal, with orders not to MOVE, and took off alone. As I rounded the final corner to the dairy cases, I saw a strange configuration INSIDE one of the big open cold cases. Way down about halfway of the wall, over inside the glass frame, huddled on his side, knees drawn up and his face hidden in his Christmas finery, lay my dear boy, cuddled up on about fifty packages of cheese.
He was properly comforted and admonished, though I admit I was laughing almost too hard to lift him out. The whole crowd was hee-hawing, and it’s still a Christmas tale to tell. And I only had to buy four of the packages of cheese---the ones down where his little Sunday shoes were resting. I felt that was the least I could do, and we ate cheese dishes for weeks.
We still have the picture, with only the two of the three, but you have no idea what I'd give for one of that sweet little boy, all curled up in the dairy case. I can’t wait til Our Girl is old enough to tell the story to---next year when she’s three she’ll take great glee in hearing of the year that her Dada ran from Santa and hid in the cheese.