Ho Ho HoaxPosted: January 26, 2012
I think my best friend asked for Legos from Santa when we were six. Legos, or video games, or something normal like that. I, on the other hand, well, I was kind of a weird kid.
“Have you been a good boy this year?” Santa wondered through his stringy, ivory beard, which looked just like it was supposed to.
“Uh huh,” I replied—overly eager, looking up into his bespectacled eyes. It was strange to me that Santa chose the Sears in Parkway Plaza Mall every year to stop his sleigh, and I was talking to my friend Skyler about it one day at recess. We were both on the swings, so our paths only crossed at the bottom, which made our conversation choppy.
already,” I reasoned.
“Hm,” he pondered.
sense.” When the bell rang, we launched into the sandbox and ran toward our classroom.
“Well, then, Todd, what do you want from Santa this year?” I was sitting on his leg, his white-gloved hand on my back, and I started playing with my fingers like I used to do when I was excited, snapping my thumb against the other four like they were crab claws. My foot was planted against the base of his Yuletide throne, and my knee was bouncing so hard that his jolly, holiday belly shook through his velveteen suit.
“I would like all the balls off my roof,” I declared.
Over the course of the summer and fall, I’d managed to accidentally throw all of my balls into the abyss that was the roof of our Lakeside home: the green one from Aunt Cheryl, the blue one that was perfect for soccer, the clear, bouncy one with glitter that I bought with a quarter from the grocery store.
“Whoa ho ho,” he chuckled, which was the way he was taught to say, “I bet you sit alone at lunch.” He gave me a candy cane and told me to listen to my parents, which I promised I would do. “Anything for those balls,” I thought. “Anything.” On Christmas morning, they were stacked neatly on the hearth, all twelve of them.
The Christmas of ’96 was seismic—two years after the winter of the balls, and if I think about it long enough it still sends me to that private place of panic that makes me rashy and hot. I had discovered I was good at a sport that year, which was significant considering they always made me goalie, and not because I was nimble.
“He can’t mess us up that way,” I remember one of the kids saying in second grade. I’d stand between the posts and dig holes in the dirt with the tips of my lace-less, navy vans while everyone else passed the ball and scored goals and smiled. Of the two seasons I played baseball, I think I played right field all but three games, which—when the players are six and seven and have recently discovered they have arms let alone how to swing a bat with them—is code for “place holder.” 1996 was different, though. I remember stepping onto the court for the first time: the dry breeze on my ruddy cheeks, the way the blacktop smelled when it got hot, the faded, white paint that marked the boundaries. I won my first game without ropsies, and never looked back. Santa asked me that December what I hoped—more than anything—would be under the tree, and I answered immediately.
“A tetherball pole.” When I woke up that Christmas morning, I jumped from the top bunk, ignoring the black, metal ladder that I used to climb into bed at night, and my knees hit my chest when I landed on the floor.
“Dad,” I whispered into his ear. My hand looked tiny shaking his sturdy shoulder. “Dad, wake up, it’s Christmas. Daaaadddddd.” He rustled my hair, and I waited in the hall while my parents rubbed the sleep out of their eyes.
“I need to wake up your sisters,” my dad mumbled as he walked out of his room. I was pulling at the neck of my shirt, and my legs buckled inward, the way they do in cartoons when the character’s about to pee himself. A couple minutes later, we were all standing in the hall—the five of us.
“I think it’s time,” my mom sang, and I tore around the corner. It was always overwhelming—that feeling of walking into the living room and seeing the stockings swollen with promise. Mine was made of tightly woven green-and-red yarn, and had my name in all capitals at the top. This year, among the licorice and Hot Wheels and crayons, there was a small, brown box with four words printed on its packaging: “To: Todd, From: Santa.” I ripped off the paper and opened its white lid. Inside was a note, folded into quarters. I looked at my parents, whose shoulders were shrugged and eyebrows raised.
“Well, what’s it say?” my dad asked.
“It says I should go check the driveway,” I stuttered.
“Go, then!” my mom smiled. I ran to the front door, pushed the black handle of our screen, and stumbled down the steps. Next to our family’s caramel station wagon—the one with the seat in the trunk that I would lay in all the way to Grandma’s house—was my very own tetherball pole. I screamed, I think, before rushing over to touch the handsome, mustard ball that hung from the pole.
“Dad! Look!” I was pointing at the cement-filled, tire base, into which my name had been carefully etched. He smiled back at me, and said the same thing he did every year.
“Santa really knows, huh?”
I played tetherball by myself all morning, practicing, honing, mastering. I was sweating by 10:00, which is when I saw Kristine—my six-year old next-door neighbor—walk out of her house and onto her driveway.
“Morning, Kristine,” I said, my breath labored, “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” she said. “What are you doing?”
“Just playing with my new tetherball pole.” The ball had just wrapped around the pole and snapped, that sweet, sweet sound.
“Hey!” she shouted. “My dad made that!” I looked at her with pity, the way I did when Erika couldn’t quite get her multiplication tables right.
“Oh, no” I patronizingly laughed. “He didn’t, Kristine. It must have been a different one. Santa brought me this.” I stood smugly; she was unrelenting.
“No, I’m pretty sure my dad made that with your dad in our garage.”
“Whatever, Kristine.” I walked into my house to find my mom. She was in the kitchen.
“Mom, you’ll never guess what Kristine said. She said dad made my tetherball pole with her dad in their garage. Isn’t that crazy?” Immediately, her face dropped, and my mouth went dry. “That’s crazy, right?” I begged. She walked over, herded me to the couch, and lifted my frail body onto her lap. Her hand was rubbing my back.
“Mom, is Santa real?” I asked, frantically. Her head shook, and I started to cry.
“The Easter Bunny?” Another shake, more tears.
“The Tooth Fairy?” I pressed, desperately. This was the final nail in my imaginative coffin, and I wept in her arms before raising my gaze to meet her heavy, heavy eyes. “You lied,” I cried. “You liiiiied.” We talked about not telling other kids, waiting for their families to explain it to them, and she held me tight, the way parents are supposed to when their kids are growing up.
I didn’t feel that way again until college, which is another way of saying I led an incredibly safe childhood. I was in one of my Bible classes when it hit me.
“Wait, were Adam and Eve real?” I asked my professor.
“Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by real,” he responded.
“Like, did they actually ever walk around and breathe and eat fruit in a garden?” His silence was familiar, and made my fingers tingle.
The power, I’ve learned, isn’t found in whether or not they lived: Santa, Adam, Noah, David. It’s found in our telling of their stories: stories of trust, and love, and endurance, and struggle. We don’t tell them because they happened; we tell them because they’re true.
Skyler and I were sitting in class after winter break. He’d found out about Santa that Christmas, too, and we were talking about how Sears made so much more sense now. A girl in the row in front of us heard some of our conversation.
“What are you guys talking about?” she asked.
“We’re talking about how Santa’s,” I punched his leg and he stopped.
“Nothing,” I finished.