Those of you who have big brothers know that there are two varieties: The kind that love their younger siblings, those who dream of being an only child and those who are bad at math.
I have two older brothers, one of each. My oldest brother is the first kind. He’s good at math as well, but that’s another story. This story is about how a teen-aged boy extended the Santa Claus season for his little sister out of pure good will.
I don’t remember how I made the leap from believer to non-believer, where Santa is concerned. There was no heart-breaking epiphany. There was a great deal of swearing while putting up our yearly tree, I remember that. I remember my mother was prone to odd gifts, such as a bottle of dandruff shampoo for my middle brother and a wildly disappointing statue of St. Francis of Assisi in lieu of a doll. I suppose I could have tried wrangling a dress on the white porcelain figurine, but there are very few dollie clothes made for emaciated saints. (Google it if you doubt me.)
We were not a family prone to traditions, but there were a few we held dear like waiting outside the bathroom door as my mother took a leisurely shower on Christmas morning. We were not allowed to travel downstairs to see what Santa had brought until my mother was cleaner than the nail beds of a surgeon with OCD. I understand now that it was a ploy to heighten the excitement, but at the time I had to wonder what my mother did on Christmas Eve that necessitated such a thorough scrubbing.
There was the tradition, which felt more like a rule which made it a criminal offense to open presents while another member of the family was doing so. Imagine my shock the first time I shared Christmas with my Italian in-laws as they laid waste to a display of presents big enough to make Santa go into another line of work.
In the time it took to say, “Merry Chr-” the presents were opened and categorized and the paper tossed into waiting garbage bags. That year, because I was a newcomer I had little to open so I was handed one of my fiance’s gifts which turned out to be underpants which sported the phrase, “Home of the Whopper.” Coming from a family which pretended that no one owned genitals, this was also a stunner. (At this time, I’d like to congratulate myself for most likely being the only writer to use the word genitals in a Christmas themed work unless you count the pay-per-view movie, “Santa’s Ho-Ho-Hos.)
Anyway, back to my brother, who had a paper route as many brother’s did in the sixties. (Whatever happened to paper boys? What do they do for money now? Are they somehow making money with the dozens of single socks missing from dryers across America or is it something more maniacal?)
Early one Christmas morning, I was deeply asleep when my brother came and sat on the edge of my bed and whispered my name. He had a secret to tell and as everyone knows, if you’re big brother shares a secret, you have hit the jackpot of self-esteem.
I could tell he was excited; his eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly agape with just a small smile at the corners. This had to be big. Being of the teenage persuasion, my brother was not easily impressed, even with the idea that an enormous bunny snuck into our house on Easter Eve, took our colored, hard-boiled eggs, along with pounds of chocolate, and scattered them about for us to find and eat on Easter without any of us ending up in the ER with salmonella poisoning.
He leaned in a bit, so as not to be heard by the other members of my family, who were not as special as I was at that moment. My stomach began to curl around like the kind of ribbon you zip scissors over to make it twist into a pretty coil, but you can never do it effectively so you end up with a limp and frayed piece of holiday cheer that you cast aside with a snarl and the kind of words associated with installation of Christmas trees.
It was just becoming light outside, I might have seen some lollygagging stars had I looked out the window. But my eyes were pinned on my big brother’s face who was about to give me some kind of spectacular news.
“I was coming back from my paper route,” he began. I knew that because he smelled like winter air when the season cracked with cold and snow began accumulating in mid November and didn’t completely vanish until Mother’s Day, but I said nothing, most likely because I was holding my breath.
“I was riding back home and when I got here,” he continued. “I saw something in the sky, over our house.”
I skittered up to a sitting position, pulling in my knees and wrapping my arms around them; this was going to be big. Maybe even better than the time he took me to Ben Franklin and, with his paper route money, let me pick out a Barbie outfit.
I know what you’re thinking now, especially if you’ve ever been a little girl. OMG, you’re thinking, your brother was actually born on Christmas morning 2000 years ago. No, he was just a regular brother in that he wasn’t the Savior, but he also gave me the last pop tart once when I had greedily eaten my share the morning before, so he was pretty close.
On this particular morning, however, he was going to return something to me that I was about to willingly toss away, not understanding its value; the certainty that Santa Claus was a flesh and blood person and the twinkling delight that goes along with that knowledge. He polished the tarnish of my impending disbelief and handed it back shiny and true.
“I saw Santa,” he told me in a way that could have one him an Oscar had he done it on film and not under the canopy of his little sister’s bed. “He was just flying away when I got home.”
This had to be true. My brother didn’t lie, not to me anyway. My parents were another story, as I said he was a teenager in the sixties.
What a revelation! I had begun to think that the story of a guy who lived up in the North Pole with a couple dozen elves who made all the toys, even misguided statues of St. Francis, and then flew across the rooftops of every single child who believed in him in a single night, despite the time zone changes was a little fishy. But, it had to be true and I was as sure as a three-year-old that the benevolent Santa had been to my house that Christmas Eve and would return thereafter.
Of course, Santa eventually had to cross me off his list, (apparently Santa stops visiting once a person gets married,) but I never stopped believing. When I see him at the mall, I still get that curly stomach feeling I got when I was a little girl and Santa came to my house. He often winks at me and waves, because he can see I still believe, Santa knows these things and so do big brothers.
Merry Christmas, Kim and to all.