My mother and I were sitting together in her room, talking about Christmases past, and I finally confessed to, and explained our longtime family mystery of misplaced toys. And when I say misplaced, I do not mean lost. I mean a toy that started out in one child’s pile of toys under the Christmas tree, and found its way to a different stack before morning.
When I was growing up, the presents that were brought to us by Santa Claus were placed, unwrapped, under the tree, left to right, in our birth order. Actually, it might have been right to left; it did not matter to me, because I was the middle child, so my presents always were in between my brother’s and sister’s.
In those days, I had two major childhood issues at Christmas time. The first was, as I have mentioned before, extreme anxiety over a stranger being, not only allowed into our home in the dark of night, but welcomed. The second was my yearly shock and disappointment in receiving gifts I had neither requested, nor could possibly like. Each year they were all wrong.
I never understood how my dad, who was as vigilant as they came, could be so cavalier about this red and white costumed, creepy old fellow, who defied all laws of everything. He sneaked into our home at whatever time of night he happened to arrive on our rooftop, entering it by slithering down a chimney way too small for his girth, left toys he carried around in a huge sack, hauling them in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, whose legs ran on nothing in the sky. No, no, no. None of it seemed right to this little girl, and I was astonished that my parents could go to bed peacefully on Christmas Eve, knowing our house was going to be invaded at the leisure of a roly poly man who came from some snowy, frozen land, way up north.
One year I figured the whole wrong gift thing out when I had been dragged to a department store in town, and forced to sit on a Santa’s lap to tell him what I wanted for Christmas. He and I got into an unpleasant discussion over not writing down what all the children were telling him. He told me he did not need to, he would remember. I tried to explain about not getting the correct gifts each year, and if he wrote down what I asked for like he was supposed to, the problem would be corrected. It did not take long for him to be done with my lecturing, and he dispatched me from his lap and mini North Pole with extreme prejudice.
I was delighted, though. I had figured out how to manage the Christmas issues. My parents could go to bed, I would keep watch over our home, and after Santa came and went, I would redistribute the gifts. Such an easy fix, and no one would be the wiser.
Hard as I tried, I did not catch the old guy in the act; sleep overtook me as soon as I went to bed, and he came during those slumbering hours. I woke up somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 AM, which still gave me plenty of time to rearrange the toys under the tree. And I had so much fun deciding who would get which toy. Especially the dolls. I finally would get the doll I wanted. Oh, I was heady with my Christmas power.
When morning arrived, I eagerly ran into the living room with my siblings, our parents sleepily trailing behind us. I was deliriously satisfied with our piles of toys, as were my brother and sister. Which is why we could not understand why my mother began shrieking at us to stop. “Stand still, stop, do not move!”
She raced from pile to pile, grabbing toys from our very hands, muttering it was all wrong, all wrong. I was flabbergasted. I did not willingly release the doll I was holding, and told her Santa gave it to me. She said he did not, and pulled it from me, saying Santa had made a terrible mistake, and she was fixing it.
Clearly, my mother knew more about Santa’s intentions than I had realized, and it was only after I glanced at my dad who was giving me his “you had better let go of that doll if you know what’s good for you” look, that I realized I needed a quick retreat, and definitely some serious plausible deniability.
Still not understanding how my parents knew what Santa had brought each of us kids, my siblings and I proclaimed our innocence, and stuck firmly to our stories all these many years. Until I told my mother a couple days ago, she was not sure how the presents got moved. And, as it turns out, she was very relieved to learn she had not had too many egg nogs combined with hot toddies on Christmas Eve, and in a stupor, given us the wrong presents, herself.
As the truth was revealed, I found myself missing those days when our greatest challenge was how gifts got jumbled up under a Christmas tree. And although most of those voices are silent now, I still can hear them in my memories, and share them with one who remains. “No Mom, it was not your egg nog and toddies; I did it. I was trying to help Santa, and make everyone happy.”
Plus, I gave my family something that has lasted over sixty years; our own Christmas mystery, unsolved until now. A little gift to them, from me.