Friday, December 17, 2004

How I found out about Santa Claus

The year I turned eight we moved into a new house. I started grade three. I met Sandy, who would be my friend for life. I was teacher's pet. I read "Forever" by Judy Blume and had no idea what it was about. I mostly wore a beige Luke Skywalker t-shirt that my parents had gotten for me in Buffalo.

And all I wanted for Christmas that year was My Friend Mandy.

She was the most beautiful doll in the world. She had long blonde hair and pink and white skin. She had a pink dotted swiss dress and she had a straw hat with a pink brim. She had white underwear. She could stand on her own. I pored over her picture in my mom's magazines. Time stopped for me whenever the commercial for her and her other friends came on. I can't remember their names. It didn't matter. All I wanted was her.

So of course I made my case early, like in September. I announced to my world that she was to be mine for Christmas. I had daydreams of Mandy and I going out for walks, of brushing her gorgeous blond hair, (so different from my plain brown pixie cut from the Wave'n Save), of talking together and dancing together, and just being best friends.

My mom had a decorator table in the living room. It was one of those tall tables with a round top that you cover with a tablecloth that reaches to the ground. The tablecloth was a pumpkin orange color with a toile square of fabric over the top.

One day, in very early December, I was in the living room alone, examining things, which was a favorite thing of mine to do. I was a big examiner. I liked to take down all the knick knacks and turn them over in my hands. I liked to stare at the pictures on the wall, or trace my finger along the mantlepiece, touching the old books on the bookshelves that flanked the fireplace one by one, reading their strange titles. I passed the decorator table, examined the lamp on top of it, looked into my dad's coffee cup from the night before that was there, sniffed the coffee.

Then my foot hit something hard under the table.

Being a professional examiner you know when something new comes on the scene. I lifted up the tablecloth and oh!

There was a My Friend Mandy, in all her pink and white finery, standing happily in her cardboard box.

My heart leaped across the room and came back twice as big. I couldn't believe my eyes. "Mandy!" I shout-whispered. I knelt down in front of her and just took her in. She was every inch as wonderful as I knew she would be. As I reached for her I thought of how lucky I was, that I was going to get my wish for Christmas, that Santa-

Santa! What? Why did he leave her here? When did he come down from the North-

A price tag glared up at me.

Did- Who- My Mom. Shopping. Santa. My mom. Mandy.

Price Tag.

The deep part of my consciousness that had already grown up and knew there was no Santa Claus rang its bell. (The other thing about being an examiner means that you are usually a pretty good eavesdropper too.) The rest of me caught up with the grown up part as I held the box in my arms.

It was a bittersweet moment. There was no Santa, but looky here I had my doll.

Someone was coming. I popped the doll back under the table and pulled the tablecloth down with a swoosh!

Every day after that I visited Mandy. Of course, she was tethered to her box by the waist with a strong plastic tie, but I was up to the challenge of hugging her anyways. (Ah! Maybe here is where I learned to love my kids when they are being difficult!) I waited until the living room was empty (not a common occurence with three other siblings plus two parents) and went to the table. She was always thrilled to see me. We talked and hung out and I smoothed her hair and kissed her face and promised her that soon she would be free and could come live with me in my room.

Finally, Christmas Eve came. No sugarplums dancing in my head, but visions of Mandy in her straw hat waving at me and saying, "Soon our love will no longer be a secret!"

On Christmas morning I was casual. My trained eagle eyes found the box and I did not grab it but opened all the other presents first. You know, all the other presents that are not your big present. The book. The socks. The little trinkets. You smile and say, "Oh Thank You!" like the best most grateful kid in the world, because you are confident in the knowledge that you will be getting the big present.

I think it was Siobbhan who picked up the box and handed it to me. "This ones yours, Aim!"

"Oh!" I said, "For me?"

I carefully opened the paper. My mom was watching. The poor woman, in her orange and yellow flowered housecoat, who had probably worked afternoons the night before and then came home and wrapped presents all night with my dad, holding her cup of coffee out like a beacon, smiling at me.

"It's My Friend Mandy!!!" I shouted, happy at last to be performing the role I had understudied for weeks. "Oh she's beautiful!"

But she wasn't. I turned her box so my mom could see and my mom's face fell. She squinted behind her glasses at the doll. "What- let me see her, Amy."

I turned the doll to face me again.


She was filthy. All the loving gestures I had bestowed upon her had left their mark. Her face had smudges, her hair was a little greasy looking. Her dress had marks on it and a spot, I think, of peanut butter.


I stood and guiltily brought her to my mom. She looked at her, then at me. She looked tired. And a little bit mad. And, strangely, a little bit not mad at all. "I guess," she said, "I guess you knew what you were getting for Christmas, eh?"

I nodded.

"Well. You should clean her up."

"I will." I said. "I love her, mom. Thank you."

"Alright. Go get the big scissors and we will get her out of this box. And Amy-"


"Next time don't be so nosy."

"I won't." (But of course I was. How can you not be what you are?)

And that's how I found out about Santa Claus.


There she is, on the left. Tell me she isn't the best. She is wearing a different dress in this picture, but I would recognize her anywhere. This ad I scanned from a 1974 Woman's Day magazine.


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