Tuesday, December 30, 2008
When I met Santa
When I was 3 years old, living in a small Saskatchewan town called Theodore, I met Santa. The man himself . It was Christmas eve, I was in my pyjamas, and my Mom said "Santa will be here soon, look out the window for him." Of course I did. All I could see out the window was the "bush" next to our house, lit in light blue by the moon. I stood there on my tiptoes for what seemed like forever, imagining Santa flying through the cold winter sky. But, I knew that we were in the north of Canada and I knew he'd be here soon.
Footfalls. Sounds on the roof. I hear them. Someone was on the roof! I reported to my mother, like a good boy, and she said "That's probably him!" I didn't know what to do with myself. So I stayed there at the window, and listened very carefully while imagining the reindeer setting down and Santa getting his bag and stepping out of the sleigh into the deep snow on the roof. I heard sleigh bells. But how would he get down? We didn't have a fireplace!
Knock on the back door. A firm, knowledgeable knock. One two three. Pause. In that pause, I believed in everything. I went to the kitchen door, careful in case I had to run and hide, but with the best view of who would come through that back door. My father answered. In came ---- Santa Claus. (cont'd ------>)
Santa stamped off the snow from his heavy black boots, and came inside. He was carrying a big bag, And he was pushing a toy with a long handle, a toy that rolled across the floor and jingled. As it turned out, that toy was for my younger brother, but right then, I knew nothing other than that Santa was walking through our kitchen toward our living room where I was waiting for him. He kept coming. I thought I was going to explode.
Santa was greeted by my mother in the living room, and she invited him to sit in a big chair she had pulled out into the middle of the room for that purpose. He sat down, he put his bag of toys by the side of the chair, he gave a big sigh, and he said "Ged!" Ged was my brother. He was two. He was hiding. But when he heard Santa call his name, he came out carefully and took the jingly pushtoy from Santa who said "For you." I was jealous. Ged retreated.
Next, Santa beckoned to me with a "come here" sign. All of a sudden, this seemed complicated. What should I do? What should I say? My mother took my hand and led me to Santa's lap. All of a sudden, in my very own house, I was sitting on the lap of the real Santa and he was about to talk to me and about to give me all the toys of my dreams!
I sat on his red-clothed lap, still cold from the night, and he put a gentle arm around me, and I looked up into his face. And froze in horror! His eyes were sunken back into his head! The skin of his face looked like painted cardboard, and there were holes where there should be eyes, and deep behind those holes I could see his real eyes. I couldn't help myself, it was horrifying, I cried and lept off his lap and ran behind the sofa to where my smarter younger brother had hidden.
I don't remember what else happened. I'm sure he passed out the toys to me and Ged and my younger sister who was only one. I vaguely remember his leaving by the back door, because I remember wondering how he would climb back on the roof to get in his sled and continue his important journey. But I could only think about the horror of that face.
My mother explained that "it's the frost". That didn't help. I lived in a place where winter lasted forever (I'd had 3 of them already, so I knew) and if mere frost would make your eyes sink back into your head like Santa's, I didn't want any part of it! I don't remember what I got that Christmas for presents, but I will never forget Santa and the tragic results of frost on his face.
I know now that Santa was Bill Bilokreli, who I knew as the man who would drive a big tractor through town and lived just a few houses down. I know now that he wore a paper mask that he'd bought downtown, or maybe even in Yorkton, the "big city" closest by.
I know now that love and magic and Santa and being a little person and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and Christmas and toys and reindeers on your very own roof are real, and confusing, and terrifying, and wonderful and part of the story we tell ourselves to make life better.