FARM AND FOOD FILE
Of the many memories I have of Christmas on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth, I don’t have a single memory of ever telling Santa what I wanted.
I do remember being told innumerable times that I had better be good, or Santa wouldn’t bring me what I wanted. How could he, was my internal dialogue, when I hadn’t told him what I wanted?
A photograph exists of my older brothers, sister, and me with a department store Santa in, maybe, 1960. Hmm, could I have slipped the fat man a slim list that day?
I doubt it because the picture shows him looking blankly right into the camera while we’re all looking at anything but.
Eyes don’t lie; the disconnect between that St. Louis Santa and those Illinois farm kids couldn’t be more obvious.
I do have a clear memory of Santa bringing me a battery-powered, toy electric razor one year. The proof is another photo with me holding the razor while sporting a smile brighter than the tinsel-draped cedar tree behind me.
That razor was way cool, but I didn’t ask Santa for it.
A couple of Christmases later my two older brothers received BB guns, the pinnacle of every boy’s Christmas gift pyramid. They must have asked Santa for ’em because I had not and, well, what do you think happened?
At that point, anyone with a thinner skull might have picked up on that Ask Santa thing. Me, no. I needed confirmation.
Finally, in 1964 or so, I learned the full truth at Grandma Guebert’s house. I remember the precise moment of complete, silencing clarity.
That Christmas Eve was like every Christmas Eve; we were at Grandma’s eying the beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree while the adults were in the kitchen eating pickled herring and raw oysters, Grandpa’s Christmas gift to them all. Ach, some gift.
As I bored through the tottering pile, I uncovered an enormous box that was ticketed for my brother, David. Wow, David had hit the Grandma jackpot. The Mother Lode.
“David,” I said as I pointed in hushed awe, “look.”
“Yeah, I saw that,” he said blankly.
“No, dummy,” I insisted, “this is the Big One, the …”
Before he could slug me into silence, the adults appeared and the great gift giveaway began. I immediately snatched David’s package and handed it to him with a command to open it.
Before he had it half unwrapped, I saw what it was.
Oh. My. Goodness. An electric slot car racetrack set.
I fell to my knees, a puddle of quaking disbelief. Looking into that box was like looking into the sun. It was blindingly spectacular, completely incomprehensible.
“I I … I can’t believe it,” I stammered.
“Believe it,” David replied coolly. “I already knew I was getting it.”
“You peeked under the wrapping?”
“No, I just asked for it.”
“What? You mean you asked Santa?”
“No, stupid. Grandma. She asked me what I wanted Santa to bring and I told her.”
“Wait. You told GRANDMA you wanted Santa to bring you a slot car racetrack?”
“Yeah. That’s the way it works, idiot.”
I looked at the slot car set, then at David (the owner of it and a BB gun), then at Grandma.
I had been an idiot. Santa was real and his pipeline was a gray-haired, gravy-making lady named Grandma. I became a true believer right then and there.
And I still believe.
This year, for example, I asked for a bottle of lovely, and purely medicinal, elixir from Scotland’s Isle of Skye and new golf driver from a guy named Callaway.
Santa’s helper filled the order last Saturday.
The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Past columns, events and contact information are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.
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