Like most American kids I was given the sleigh driving version of Santa Claus to believe in. The legend in my rural southern small town included the usual expectation of toys under the tree. There were caveats however to the magic. One eve, I vividly remember laying stiff under tucked covers giddy with anticipation over arrival of Santa, but most important I remember the fear and anxiety of trying to keep my eyes tightly shut. With my excitement, I'd given up all efforts to actually fall asleep, but I was told that children had to go to sleep Christmas night or Santa wouldn't come. That night as I gave in to peeking there was a magical reddish glow cast from the embers through the cracks of the hot black stove. I panicked at the thought of the mound of ashes growing at the bottom. Visiting older children had warned that if I was caught peeking Christmas Eve night, I would face the sure punishment of ashes in my eyes. This was the southern rural negro take on mainstream 'coal in your stocking' tradition. Well our humble homes didn't have fireplaces nor cold bins of Victorian nostalgia. We kept warm by cast iron stoves fueled by kindling wood I strained to hear the sounds beyond the walls. I was perplexed by my imaginations for Santa's sleigh navigation. We rarely had snow. Actually at this preschool age, I had only one witness of snowflakes from a skimpy flurry dusting the ground with no accumulation. Our chimney was a pipe connected to a hole in the wall from the iron stove I was watching. Yet i heard activity. My grandma usually said prayers and went to bed with me. But this night I was sent alone. Was Mama out there assisting Santa? Perhaps this was a requirement for folks without the big fireplaces or grand roof tops I'd seen in my story book and on television.
I had witnessed the real live Santa Claus at the parade in town. He waived at me from a sleigh that was pulled by a truck. Then I met him in person when we traveled to the city to Christmas shop. I was led from a line to get on his lap and tell him what I wanted for Christmas. I didn't want to miss opportunity to give him a list but I didn't care to sit in his lap. In fact I just didn't care for him at all. I did what I was told. They even took a picture that we took home in a pretty Christmas tree card. Eventually, I fell sound asleep then awoke
before dawn's light. The open door and smell of brewing coffee gave me permission to go see what Santa brought.
Still dark outside, I stepped from the threshold of the bedroom to the living room of our little house. Bright red, green, yellow and blue beams of light were rotating across the walls bouncing off our low ceiling. Instead of one of the green cedar trees cut off our land, there was a fantastic adorned tree with shining silver needles like shredded Reynolds wrap. Each revolution of the colored light made the tree turn a different color. Underneath lay assortment of unwrapped toys and clothes. I knew they were mine. Somehow Santa Claus landed his sled. Maybe Grandma simply let him through the front door.
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