From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1954 –
“As Little Children”
By Virginia M. Kammeyer
Sally was mixing fruitcake when Bill passed through the kitchen on his way to the basement. When he came up twenty minutes later for a drink, of water, she was watching a television program and dreamily cutting dates onto the kitchen table.
“Watch it!” Bill said. Sally jumped and looked in surprise at the pile of fruit on the table.
Bill had bought the TV for their sixth wedding anniversary, and Sally had wanted it placed so she could see it from the kitchen while she worked. The results, so far, had been disastrous. Sally had sliced her finger while she watched “Aunt Maggie’s Cooking Bee”; she had poured Worcestershire sauce into a caramel pudding while observing the “Name the Game” program, and the purple stain in the linoleum was grape juice she abstractedly poured on the floor while viewing “Break and Take.”
Holding Sally’s rapt attention now was a woman in an absurd hat, her voice a gurgle.
“It’s Mrs. Hugo Quayle from the Happy Life League,” Sally explained. “She’s talking about ‘We are Deceiving our Children.’”
Bill took a drink of water and came closer to look at Mrs. Hugo Quayle. “Looks to me like she thought she’d wandered from a more exalted sphere.”
“Bill! Mrs. Quayle has been saying that today’s children live in a world of fantasy – television, radio, the movies.”
“Mrs. Quayle says that unless our children are awakened to a world of reality, they won’t adjust properly when they are adults. We must throw away the fairy tales.”
“Nuts,” said Bill and went back downstairs.
Sally did not dismiss Mrs. Hugo Quayle so lightly. Was she doing her duty as a mother? Karl and Ann seemed like normal children, but they did spend a great deal of time in games of make-believe. Karl’s dream of the future was to be a cowboy and ride the range in a silk embroidered shirt. Would it be too great a shock to his system when he found out that cowboys do not, for the most part, wear silk shirts, and very few of them have horses that can untie knots?
The mail truck stopped out by the road. When it passed on, there was a large package sticking half out of the box.
The children, who a moment ago had been playing in the yard, were now standing on tiptoe, tugging at the package. Sally hurried across the lawn and helped them pull it out.
“It says, To Karl and Ann.”
“It also says, Do not open until Christmas.”
“Who’s it from, Mommy?” Karl was prancing about, his hazel eyes shining. “Is it from Santa Claus?”
Sober, brown-eyed Ann echoed his words.
“I bet it’s from Santa Claus.”
“I’ll bet it’s from Grandpa and Grandmommy, because it’s post-marked Salt Lake City.”
“Does Grandpa wear a red suit?” asked Ann.
“No!” scoffed Karl. “Grandpa … What does Grandpa look like?”
“Why, Grandpa is very young looking. His hair is still black. And Grandmommy is little and plump.”
Sally felt a sudden pang. It had been two years since her parents had seen the children. Grandpa and Grandmommy in Salt Lake were the only grandparents that Karl and Ann knew, since Bill’s mother and father were not living. Ann had been two and Karl three. Of course they didn’t remember. Grandmommy’s health had been too poor for them to make the long drive again, and every time Bill got a vacation, something happened, it seemed, so they and the children couldn’t make the trip to Salt Lake.
“Is Grandpa gonna come on Christmas an’ bring us lots of presents?” persisted Ann.
“No, darling, you’re getting Grandpa mixed up with Santa Claus. Santa Claus is …” She stopped.
This was what Mrs. Hugo Quayle meant by children living in a world of unreality. Because they only knew Grandpa as a man who sent them presents, they confused him with Santa Claus.
Walking back across the frozen lawn, Sally resolved firmly to set them straight. She led the children into the living room, set them on the sofa and drew up a chair before them. Bill’s power saw was still humming in the basement where he was making a doll house for Ann.
“Karl, Ann, Santa Claus is not a real man.”
They looked at her blankly. “He is just imaginary. Santa never brings you presents, because there isn’t any Santa Claus. All the gifts you get are from other people.”
“But …” A puzzled look broke out on Karl’s face. “I saw him … uptown, in a store window.”
“That was just a man dressed up,” Sally explained patiently. “Like … like you dress up like Roy Rogers.”
Karl gave a noncommital “Oh,” looked thoughtful for a moment, and then dashed off to play. Ann followed.
There! Sally thought triumphantly. Now we’ll have an honest Christmas. No little fat man in a red suit is going to get credit he doesn’t deserve.
In the next quickly passing days, Sally made plum puddings and fancy cookies, sent the last of the Christmas cards, and on Saturday took the children shopping.
They entered Lee and Johnson’s Department Store. On a huge dais in the middle of the glittering main floor sat a jolly figure with a magnificent white flowing beard.
“Santa Claus!” Ann tugged at Sally’s hand. Karl had already dashed over to get a closer look.
“It’s not really Santa Claus, darling. I told you. It’s just a man.”
Santa extended a mittened hand and said in a rich, booming voice, “Would you like to sit on Santa’s lap, little boy, and tell me what you want for Christmas?”
Karl hesitated, looked at his mother.
“We have to get Daddy’s present,” Sally said firmly. “Come, Karl.”
They bought Bill a sports jacket, and then Sally left the children with the Story Lady on the fifth floor while she shopped for their gifts.
She passed a chinaware display and paused. There she saw a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, as fragile as though they had sprung from fairyland. In the sleigh sat a fat ceramic Santa Claus. The reindeer had golden antlers and seemed about to fly into the air.
“How darling for the mantlepiece!” Sally breathed, and then remembered that in the brave, new Christmas she championed there was no place for reindeer with golden antlers. She left the display with a feeling very near regret.
When she reclaimed the children, the Story Lady had just finished reading them “The Night Before Christmas.”
“You were wrong about Santa Claus, Mommy,” said Karl. “The Story lady said …”
“I don’t care what the Story lady said.” Sally was tired and spoke impatiently. “There is no Santa Claus.”
Everything in the store and on the street belied her words. Santa and his elves were, it seemed, everywhere, she thought.
Bill’s attitude was no help. “Doggonit, Sally, I wish you hadn’t told the kids. It never hurt me to believe in Santa Claus, and, well … you’ve taken away part of the fun.”
Three days before Christmas Bill said, “The choral singers are giving the Messiah tonight in the University concert hall. Let’s get a sitter and go hear it.”
They sat in the dark hall and listened to the beauty and sorrow of Handel’s masterpiece. Sally wanted to cry, it was so beautiful, when the white-robed figures shouted, as from one mighty throat,
Worthy is the Lamb
That was slain
And hath redeemed us to God
By his blood.
They were silent riding home, still held by the spell of the music.
“Oh, honey!” Sally said at last, “that’s what Christmas ought to be.”
“Of course it is,” Bills aid. “We know it, but …”
He didn’t finish until he had parked the car and they were walking to the house. “Sally, Christmas isn’t just for the wise. It’s for children. In telling Karl and Ann there isn’t a Santa Claus you’ve taken something away from them. Old Saint Nick represents the spirit of loving and giving, and it doesn’t take away anything from the true meaning of Christmas.”
“You’re right, dear. I wish I hadn’t.”
Bill grinned, “Ah, cheer up. I didn’t mean to get up on a soapbox. We’ll have a good time, anyway.”
The day before Christmas, Sally woke feeling as though the day ahead were a loaf of bread with the leavening left out. She worked diligently all day – cleaned the house, made rolls, and set them covered in the refrigerator, and helped Bill and the children set up the tree and trim it. It was fun to work together, but the bubble and sparkle and secret excitement of Christmas Eve seemed missing.
They had an early supper, and then the children went obediently to bed. Sally remembered last Christmas, when they had been like prancing ponies int heir eagerness to find out what Santa would bring them.
Sally and Bill sat in the living room lighted only by the bright bulbs on the tree. The floor was piled with the packages that had come from relatives.
“Shall we put the kids’ gifts out now?” Bill asked.
“I guess so,” Sally said, her heart not in it.
Bill rose to go into the basement and bring up the tricycle and dollhouse from their hiding place in the crawl hole. He walked across the room and stopped.
“Get back in bed, kids.” Two pairs of eyes were peering around the corner. Karl gave an elfish grin.
“We forgot something.” He held up a large stocking made of red felt and with a bell on the toe. Ann followed suit. Grandmommy had sent the stockings last Christmas.
“We didn’t hang these up for Santa Claus.” The two children scampered over to the fireplace, waving the stockings.
Why, she thought, they didn’t believe me! Not a word! She looked at their hopeful faces. “Yes, we’ll hang up the stockings for Santa Claus.”
“I’ll get some tape,” said Bill, “to hold up the stockings.” They hung the stockings, the children chattering happily.
“I hope Santa Claus puts a dolly in mine,” said Ann. “One that cries real tears.”
“When I was a little girl,” said Sally, “we used to put out bowls of candy and nuts for Santa Claus.”
“Did he eat them?” Karl was big-eyed.
“They were always gone in the morning.”
“Let’s crack some nuts for Santa Claus.”
They at about the kitchen table. Bill pounded with a hammer, Karl used the nut crackers, and Sally picked the meats from the shells.
Somewhere down the street, voices were caroling through the frosty air.
Sally looked at the faces of her dear family. The true spirit of Christmas was in all their hearts.
“Merry Christmas, darlings. Merry, Merry Christmas.”