The Christmas I turned six, we loaded the car and headed from Dover AFB to Danville, Illinois to spend the holidays with my mother’s family. I think my parents wanted everyone to see my brother, Charles, who had just turned six months old. Dad preferred extremely early morning starts, and on this trip he and my mother woke us up around four in the morning. They bundled us into the car with pillows and blankets and encouraged us to go back to sleep. The trip, with stops for breakfast and lunch, would take more than twelve hours. My folks’ tight budget prevented a midpoint stop at a hotel. They played the radio and talked continually to keep my dad alert. Often, they’d have four or five hours of the trip travelled before one of us kids would wake up.
I remember the excitement I felt when we finally reached Aunt Nellie’s house. She lived in an older Craftsman-styled home. I remember ice and snow covered the yard, but someone had cleared the sidewalk and porch steps to welcome us. Relatives burst from the front door when we pulled alongside the curb, and hugs and kisses pulled us into the front room where a Christmas tree dominated the front corner.
Aunt Nellie and Uncle Paul directed us into our rooms. They’d borrowed a baby crib from some friends for my brother and situated it in the same room with my parents. Aunt Nellie had cleared her sewing room and snugged a bed under the window. My sister and I would share this room during our visit. This room remained cozily warm because Aunt Nellie always had something cooking in her oven.
Both my sister and I are practically Christmas babies. Her birthday is on the 21st while mine is on the 26th. So on Christmas Eve, Aunt Nellie made a huge cake to do a joint celebration, and the entire family gathered around to sing for us. My cousin and his wife brought their baby, and I remember wearing my red ski pants and black boots for pictures on Christmas Eve.
Wonderful and magical things happened that Christmas. First, Charles sat for the first time on his own. One moment he was sitting like a little puppy dog, propped up on his hands, and the next he was wobbling with hands in the air, cooing in delight. I remember running into the kitchen to announce this feat, and by the end of our visit, he’d mastered sitting alone.
But the second magical moment came on Christmas Eve. Paula and I played on our bed in the sewing room. She had on blue ski pants, the type with the band that looped under your foot. I had on red. The bed, in front of a large window, gave us the perfect spot to kick as we watched the blue and red reflections. As we entertained ourselves with our impromptu choreography, someone knocked loudly on the window.
He stood in all of his glory, just on the other side of a thin pane of glass! His white beard tumbled down his huge belly, and he called our names and laughed merrily. His red suit (complete with hat and boots) stood out against the white snow.
I remember screaming in delight as my sister and I pressed our faces to the window. We lost sight of him as he disappeared into the back yard.
The entire family crammed into the little room trying to decipher our babble about seeing Santa Claus. Some of the adults poo-pooed our claims while others went outside to check for footprints, which they found.
No one ever admitted, even once we were grown, to donning a costume that Christmas Eve. So I have to believe that we really did have a visit from Santa.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman