A Christmas Story

Father ChristmasI would like to take this evening to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and share my favorite Christmas story of all time.  I’ve heard it many times already and it brings tears to my eyes each time I hear it.  I hope all of you enjoy it as much as I do as it was told to me by one of the most respected individuals I’ve ever met, and one who I hold very close to my heart.  The first time I heard this story was in 1997 and it begins like this:

Our tree had just been decorated – never before Christmas Eve in my youth – and I was supposed to be in bed but the excitement got the better of me and I crept out to the landing where I could see down into the living room, hoping the tree was still lighted. There was Santa! Santa was in our living room talking to my mother who was dressed to go out to a party. I stared dumbstruck for a few moments and then ran to get Delores, “Dodo”, my older sister. With a groan she came with me and we sat at the top of the stairs looking through the railing. I was so happy! I had to smile: “Look”, I whispered, “Santa is drinking Daddy’s whiskey”. Dodo snorted. “That is Daddy, you moron”. I protested, she insisted. “Look at his wrist when he raises the glass. He’s wearing his gold wristwatch or else Santa has nicked it”. I started to cry, loud enough to be heard and in a flash the figure in red was upon us. “She says there’s no Santa Claus. It’s just you.” His voice was soft but his eyes were blazing as he ordered Dodo to her room and then led me to mine as I sobbed. He put me in bed, tried to kiss me but I turned and told him to go away. With a tired sigh he left the room.

I cried myself to sleep. Hours later, I guess, I heard my door open. I knew it was him because as he drew near and sat down on my bed I recognized his distinctive scent of cologne and cigarette smoke. I moved away but he took hold and pulled me to him. Again I told my father to go away. He said he had to talk to me. “Santa is real.” “No. It’s just you and you’re a liar. I hate you”. Years later he told me that he felt as though he had been run through with a blade but at that moment he was still and said softly, “You don’t hate Daddy. You’re hurt and angry but you don’t hate”. I said it again but I was weakening. I loved this man so much and I was sometimes afraid  he would go away. I had hardly ever seen him during the war: While Mum and we children were safe in New York, her hometown, he was in war-torn London, his hometown. Having my father with us was prayer answered.

I don’t have total recall. I know this episode so well because it became family lore. We often repeated it with a laugh for many Christmases.

He finally spoke again. “Listen to me. Santa is real. He is in all of us, in me and in you. He is love. He is kindness and generosity and care and sympathy. He is all the good that is in us.” I was warming to this, as to a great bedtime story. My father could talk the birds out of the trees. I never stood a chance. “I love you”, he whispered. “Do you love me?” I had to admit that I did. “I knew that”. And then he chuckled. He left and only the faint scent of his cologne remained. I slept.

He had played Santa at a party for poor children that night and I can only imagine how he spent the evening stressing over what he could say to me. He found my sister’s portion easy. She was grounded.

He had already  proved that he was no liar about Santa because one year, in the time before I was born, be became a real life Saint Nicholas. In the crash of 1929 Dad lost everything. Fortunately my mother being a modern woman had kept all of her money which was invested conservatively with nothing bought on margin. Her income was reduced but it got them by. My mother had her family farm house, by this time our country house, about ninety miles from New York. My father loved this place and it became their refuge while he recovered financially.

Recovery for him was slow but steady while others continued to be devastated. In that area of Pennsylvania unemployment was sometimes as high as seventy-five percent. Many of the locals were from eastern and middle Europe, mostly Czechs and Slovaks, some Russians, and others, like my mother’s family, Irish. The European families had begun to sell for next to nothing their beautiful linens, crocheted items and hand-loomed counterpanes, even glass. My father, an art historian and dealer with a love of Bohemian art and culture, bought up many of these things that had been brought from the “Old Country” and were greatly prized. He knew how painful it was for these families to part with such treasures. And remember, he had little himself at that point. He made careful note of who sold him what and that Christmas of 1934 he packaged it all up and left the parcels on the doorsteps of the “real owners”, as he put it. He never told them but they all knew who was their “Father Christmas”. They respected what were clearly his wishes and never directly thanked him. He was, however, the beneficiary of many acts of kindness from his sometimes neighbors in years thereafter.

My Dad was Santa Claus, no doubt above it.

Peace and love and kindness and generosity and care and sympathy,

Merry Christmas

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