I was four when I awoke to the sound of sleigh bells and a deep voice calling out, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”
Santa was there! Throwing back the covers, I scrambled from the bed. My older sister beat me to the living room, where Dad blinded us with his movie camera, complete with a blazing four-bulb light bar that he must have borrowed from the football stadium.
After I quit seeing spots, I stumbled across the living room to find my gift from Santa beside the tinseled tree. A miniature black piano and bench gleamed under Dad’s spotlights.
“Play it,” my mother urged.
I sat down on the polished bench and ran my fingers over the smooth keys. I knew for sure that there must be a Santa Claus, because I had never seen anything this wonderful downtown at Toy World or in the Sears Christmas catalog.
Tentatively, I tapped a key. Pl-ink! The sound gave me goosebumps. I turned to grin at my Dad. “Look what Santa brought me!” I said.
The lights blinded me again.
All morning, I banged happily on my Christmas piano without disruption. My sister was occupied with putting on make-up at her Little Princess vanity.
Later, she and I sat on the floor playing with new dolls. She said, “I know there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”
I froze with a little comb pulled halfway through my doll’s hair. “That’s a lie!” I said.
“No, it’s not!” she said with her superior big-sister tone. “I can prove it. Come on.” She stood up and waited for me to follow her.
I sat there with my doll in my lap. My sister was always saying hateful things to make me cry.
She said, “Are you coming or not?”
Reluctantly, I stood up and followed her downstairs into the farthest corner of the basement. The big stove gave off tremendous heat, along with the smell of burned wood.
“There’s the proof,” she said, pointing to a heap of cardboard on the floor.
“That’s just a bunch of old boxes Dad’s going to burn in the stove,” I said.
“You’re such a dope,” she said, digging through the flattened cardboard. She pulled out a large piece and said, “Look what it says right there.”
I stared at the letters, but I had no clue what they meant.
She rolled her eyes and turned over the flattened box. She said, “Look at the picture, dummy.”
I stared at the outlines of her Little Princess Vanity set, and my four-year-old brain did its best to rationalize this new information. “Santa had to leave the boxes here…because he was in a hurry,” I said.
“Sure,” my sister muttered. She yanked out another piece of brown corrugated board and said, “Look at that.” She shoved the box into my hands.
There, on the side of the box was a picture of my Christmas piano. “Maybe Santa didn’t have room in his sleigh for these boxes,” I said.
My sister shoved her face inches from mine and asked, “And what about this, dimwit?”
She was tapping the box, and I slowly looked down. There, on a tattered corner was a sticker from Toy World…the sticker that went on every box or bag after parents paid for their kids’ toys.
My eyes met my sister’s, and she gave me a smug look. “Told you,” she said with a toss of her head.
As usual, my know-it-all sister had been right. I was a dimwit, and there was no Santa or elves with little hammers. Just parents who tricked their kids into thinking that their elaborate lies were real.
That night, I tip-toed down to the basement after everyone was asleep. With Dad’s big padded glove, I opened the stove door and watched a few orange embers glowing among the ashes. Then I gently set my piano inside the stove and closed the door on the innocence of childhood and Christmas wishes.
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