When you were a child, did you make an annual trip to sit on Santa’s lap? Did you practice your list of what you wanted and remember to tell him all the items and then get a balloon or a little toy from Santa?
Not me. I was a shy kid and you couldn’t push me onto Santa’s lap with a bulldozer. My mother would beg and plead and say, “Look at the present he gives you!” No coloring book or trinket could entice me. There was only one year she succeeded in getting me to visit Santa, and that was the very first year I was deemed old enough for the outing. And it was that experience that left me less than impressed with the whole Santa thing.
One of the big events of the holiday season in Manhasset in the late 1950’s was the arrival of Santa Claus via helicopter in the parking lot of the Arnold Constable department store. Imagine several hundred people in a crowded parking lot waiting for a helicopter to make a perfect landing in a small roped-off area. (Somewhere an insurance agent is having a nightmare.) But back in the days before we became lawsuit crazy, Santa would come flying into the midst of the holiday crowd. When the helicopter touched down, he would duck out of it carrying a sack over his shoulder, waving and yelling “Ho Ho Ho” as he bounded into the store.
I was around three years old when my Aunt Mae was visiting us at Christmastime and had my cousin Fran with her. (As you can see from his picture, he was quite the adorable child.) At some point, Aunt Mae and my Mom made the decision to take their two youngest children to see Santa’s arrival at Arnold Constable. I remember standing in the cold and craning my neck as my Mom kept pointing at the sky telling me to watch for something. Finally, there was a loud noise overhead and the helicopter came sweeping down and there was Santa “Ho Ho Ho-ing” his way into the store.
“Let’s go see Santa and you can tell him what you want for Christmas,” my mother said. Well, what I wanted for Christmas that year was Zippy, a stuffed monkey based on the real chimp that appeared on Howdy Doody. I had circled the picture of Zippy in the Sears toy catalog and talked about nothing else for weeks.
But when I found myself hoisted onto this strange man’s lap, I did what so many kids do—I froze. “I bet I know what you’d like,” Santa told me, “a nice dolly with a carriage.” I remember I nodded my head yes, but I don’t think I managed to say a word. Then someone gave me a balloon and handed me back to my mother.
For the next few weeks, I worried. I didn’t want a doll and a carriage, I wanted Zippy the monkey! But I was too shy to ask my mother to take me back to see Santa again. How could I ever dare tell that strange man that he was wrong, that I didn’t want the doll and the carriage he offered to bring me?
On Christmas morning I ran into the living room and the first thing I saw under the tree was a baby doll in a stroller. Oh no! Santa had brought me the doll and the carriage! I was ready to cry, but as I stood there staring my mother said, “Look! What’s this?” and handed me a big box. I ripped into it and there was my Zippy the monkey. What a relief!
I think that experience led me to the conclusion that it was simply easier to tell my parents what I wanted for Christmas since obviously they knew better than that strange man with the big beard. And I never let them talk me into “going to see Santa” again. But there was one saving grace to the whole Santa experience--I had fun pushing the monkey around in that stroller.
Stretch says he’s glad he lives in an age when he can simply e-mail his Christmas list to Santa so he doesn’t have to worry about any mix-ups.
And I’m glad I’m of an age where I don’t have to worry about going to see Santa anymore. Leaves me more time for fun visits with crazy cousins, like this bunch I met at the Sugar Shack for brunch last Sunday….