Friday, December 11, 2009

Not a Word of This to Virginia

We are but a fortnight away from the official "it's all over but the shouting" day of the holiday season. Two weeks from this very day is Christmas - the day in which we celebrate something truly miraculous, which I confess always mesmerized me as a child. How exactly did Santa and his team of height-impaired helpers make it all the way around the Earth in one night? Oh wait, you thought I was speaking of some other miracle perhaps? One involving swaddling clothes, an unmarried, homeless couple and three fellows toting presents (although the jury is out on the wisdom of any man who comes bearing frankincense and myrrh as presents to a newborn baby and his folks. What? No Pampers or poggies where you come from Mr. Wise Man?)

As the youngest of six I always peppered my older sibs with a lot of Santa Claus-related queries as Christmas time rolled around. I suppose that I was a believer in the miracle of Saint Nick probably until the 1st grade. Surprisingly, the greatest defender of the myth to me was my older brother Kelly. Kelly is roughly 10 years older than I am so he was in high school while I was wending my way through the nether regions of elementary school. I did not need him as a source for Santa's existence too much as a kindergartner. We all believed in Santa. At least if anyone had his/her doubts, they were doubts that never uttered aloud in the presence of any of our classmates. Mrs. Spaeth was no help. She ruled our kindergarten class with an iron fist wrapped inside of a velvet glove and gave no quarter on questions pertaining to Santa. Instead of saying "yes" or "no" in response to a query, she would fend off the inquisitor with some type of pseudo-Socratic method jive. "What do you believe in your heart?" was her default answer. "How the hell should I know" was the type of response that ensured its speaker of quality bench time in the company of the Sister who ran detention. Thus, it was not a reply given more than once.

By first grade however some cracks had become visible in our collective armor. As any student of military tactics (or viewer of "300") knows, the keys to the phalanx are equanimity and solidarity. Once those cracks appeared it was incumbent upon someone to shore up our ranks around them. That responsibility fell to me. Why? Well when you are the kid with the over-sized head who has a tendency to conjure up a grand mal seizure during recess you do what you can to create positive buzz. My quest to become buzzworthy was aided greatly by Kelly.

Any question that was posed to me in school by a doubter was easily explained to me by him that evening in preparation for the next day at school. Never did one of his explanations fail to win the day when I would gather my classmates around me and share it with them. He had all the angles covered. His coup de grace came in response to this potential land mine, "How exactly can one man driving a sled with no motor and being pulled by eight reindeer get all the way around the world in one night?", to which Kelly provided an exquisitely simple explanation, "Time zones." His logic was unassailable.

Thanks to it, my fortress was impregnable. I was suddenly a first grader whose life had meaning - other than the bemusement of my fellow first-graders who were simultaneously intrigued and horrified by my occasional, spur of the moment seizure activity - much in the same way as motorists cannot take their eyes off a particularly horrible wreck on the highway. I suddenly had street cred. The fact that I was not permitted to cross from one side of said street to the other was of no moment whatsoever.

Coincidentally it was that very Christmas that I learned the truth about Santa. Kelly was as dedicated to perpetuating the myth at home as he was in helping me spread the word at St. Paul's. He was so good at it that I did not realize that was in fact what he was doing. To assist in the believing process, he used to assume responsibility for eating the cookies and carrots and whatever else was left out for Santa and washing them all down with the milk that accompanied them. On Christmas morning when I was in first grade, I dashed into Kel's room to wake him up and as I leaned over his bed to shake him awake, my foot knocked into the empty cookie plate he had hidden on the floor beneath his bed when he came home on Christmas Eve. In the time it took for the sound to travel from his floor to my ear, we both knew that our Santa Jig was indeed up.

All these years later I do not remember being overly bothered by the accidental discovery that Father Christmas was.....well was my father and mother. I remember being impressed by the fact my brother - who was a high school upperclassman - had gone to such extraordinary lengths for my benefit. For a teenager he had an advanced sense of appreciation of the phalanx's significance. An appreciation that in hindsight seemed a bit surprising.

Perhaps it should not have been. After all, he was a Spartan.


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