I THINK MAYBE SANTA CLAUS IS NEXT DOOR

(A Christmas Story for the People I love)

It was December in 1940.,  Usually we didn’t have much snow in Ohio that early but Mom and Dad said Santa Claus would be coming to the square in downtown Newark on Saturday.,  I was a little puzzled because his reindeer and sleigh, it seemed, would have to make a landing on the bare courthouse lawn.,  But, there were a couple of days to go so maybe it would snow in time for the sleigh runners to use.

The days passed slowly as I got half-way through my,  Dick and Jane reader at Conrad School and the teacher said tomorrow would be the last day of school until Christmas. She said we would have our Christmas program the last thing in the PTA room in the afternoon.

Mom came to my program and brought Bill and Ann too.,  I can’t remember much about it now but the Rhythm Band played for the program.,  The PTA room was packed with parents and little kids.,  When it came time for the Rhythm Band to play the teacher had us all come up front and sit in the red wooden chairs.,  The sticks sat in the front row with the other kids around with their things to play.,  The tambourines stood up to play because they had to hit the side of their tambourines every once in a while to make a sharp sound.,  One pretty girl stood up with her triangle that had a metal stick to it for ringing at the right time.,  There were more shakers, the ones who sat by us, along with the sticks, than anyone else. My red sticks were okay but they just clicked.

I always wondered if the teacher would ever ask me to play the triangle or the tambourines, to make a pretty sound,,  but she never did. We played a song or two and everyone clapped.

Mom always talked to the teacher when she went to PTA meetings and programs like this.,  She didn’t say much so I thought maybe I was doing all right in school and maybe I would pass and be in second grade next year.,  I liked to read and use the big red pencil Mom got at Emersons Store.,  They cost a lot, five cents I think, but the lead was big and you could use both ends because they didn’t have an eraser. Finally the program was over and we all went home for our Christmas time off.

I dont remember how many days before Christmas it was but I think we all went in the old Hudson downtown the next day to see Santa.,  His red suit and snow-white beard made me scared but I knew I didn’t have to sit on his lap because he was in a little house.,  It was about as big as Grandpa and Grandma Pierponts outside toilet except it had windows on the sides and the front was open with a shelf and there sat Santa!,  I dont remember what I asked for that year either but he gave me some candy and Bill and Ann got some when they saw him too.,  Then we walked around the square and places and then got some food at Doniffs and went home.

Dad wasnt around at night because he worked at Owens-Corning late at night and didn’t come home until almost time for me to get up.,  Mom and Dad kept saying “Santas coming, youd better be good.”,  I knew from before if you werent good you might not get anything for Christmas so I tried not to hit Bill or Ann too much.

Our Christmas tree had short green needles and some pretty balls on it with silver tinsel and Mom had put a sheet around the bottom. That was where the presents would be when we got up on Christmas morning.,  We didn’t have a very big chimney for Santa but I thought maybe he could sneak in the front door if he didn’t make too much noise on the front porch.

Since I was six, I knew where to turn the radio knob to listen to Santa read letters from other little kids.,  He was on in the afternoon before supper and I think the program came from Columbus which I knew was a long way off, maybe over thirty miles.,  But I didn’t think they had any trouble over there tuning in to the North Pole because they did it every year. Santa had a friendly big voice and his laugh made me feel good even though I knew I had never mailed a letter to him.,  Other kids did and he promised them nice things so I knew he would have something for me too.

Finally the night before Christmas came.,  Mom never set anything out for Santa like other moms were supposed to do.,  But, I knew the letters of other kids had said he would be getting hot cocoa and cookies and sandwiches and things, so he probably wouldnt be hungry.

Dad was getting ready for work before we went to bed and I knew he remembered it was Christmas because of the tree and how excited us kids were.,  There was just a little snow on the ground now and it was pretty cold outside but the stove in the living room put out nice heat that reached my room and Bills.,  Anns little bed was in Mom and Dads room that was at the front of the house and the heat went through that door to her bed too, I suppose.

We never prayed before bed that I remember but we were excited this night because Santa was coming so we went right to bed.,  In later years I got to stay up longer than Bill and Ann because I was the oldest, but I think Mom put us to bed early so she and Dad could listen to the music on the radio sometimes before he went to work.

Sometimes Mom would have me stay up a little bit though, because we made Dads cigarettes on the little machine.,  I would sort out the little papers and have one ready to put in the little canvas swing between the rods on the machine.,  Then Mom would pour some of the tobacco from the Bugler bag into the swing where the paper was.,  I turned the crank and out came a cigarette.,  We were pretty busy sometimes because Dad took a whole Bugler package with them in it to work every night.

But, this was Christmas so we went right to bed.,  Bills bed was across from mine and had wooden sides like mine with a feather tick too.,  Our room had a doorway to the left of my bed with Bills bed on the other side.,  At the foot of my bed was the doorway to the living room.,  I was pretty excited that night but I finally got off to sleep anyway.

I usually thought of lots of things to do during the daytime.,  Mom got really mad at me sometimes because I would start fires.,  I think I must have started most of them when dad was away hunting or working during the day for someone to get extra money.,  One day I put a bunch of leaves in Dads trailer and set them on fire.,  One cold morning I put the bathroom comb in between the little slits of the gas stove Dad had put in the bathroom.,  I jerked it out when it caught fire and threw it down on the floor.,  Mom ran in and stomped the fire out. She was upset.

The fire I started in the outside basement window ledge must have been the worst one though.,  I packed the hole full of leaves and set them on fire.,  I think when the neighbor lady saw the flames licking up the side of the house that she called Mom on the telephone because she raced out and threw water on the fire.,  I dont remember if I got a licking for it but I probably did.

But, now it was Christmas Eve and I know I was really excited this year.,  I tried to think of waking up early and catching Santa at work putting things under the tree.,  It must have been about 12:30 that night that I did wake up.,  I even startled myself thinking, “Im awake and its not even Christmas yet.,  Maybe I can catch Santa!”

I got out of bed, scared, and tip-toed around the corner to see the tree.,  I was really surprised: under the tree were several things I had told Mom that I wanted Santa to bring me.,  Some other things were there too.,  There was no bike or sled like some of the kids asked for but I saw two wind-up little tractors that Bill and I liked.,  There was a doll there too, for Ann and some other things and a red wagon, I think.

I stood there in my night shirt that went down a little below my knees.,  For a while I looked at the tree with the presents.,  Then, I began to feel like I was doing something wrong.,  I thought, “I can’t help it if I woke up.,  At least I didn’t catch Santa.,  I better tell Mom, Im sorry I got up.”,  I turned around and went into Mom and Dads room.,  There was Ann, by the wall,,  asleep in her little bed.,  But, Mom and Dads bed was empty.,  I couldn’t believe it.,  Mom was still up.,  What if Santa had seen her?,  But where was she?

The basement didn’t have any lights and the floor was dirt.,  I knew she couldn’t be there.,  I ran to the back door and pushed it open.,  I looked around it down the long back yard.,  The light down to the old barn was on and it was hazy.,  Mom couldn’t be there.,  But I yelled for her anyway: “Mom!”,  “MOM!”,  “MOOOM!”,  She didn’t answer.,  She was nowhere around!,  What could I do!

Then I started to remember.,  Our neighbor lady, the one who told on me, had been asking Mom and Dad to come over.,  I didn’t think they ever would because they had a really nice house and things and I think Mom didn’t want to try it.

But I remembered, this was Christmas.,  Maybe the neighbor lady and man, who knew Dad was at work, had asked her to come over.,  But, even if not, maybe they could help me find her.,  I opened the front door and ran out onto the porch and down the two steps.,  When I hit the yard the cold snow under my feet shocked me.,  I hardly noticed.,  I ran past the big sycamore tree up toward the neighbors house.,  Buena Vista Street was on a big hill, too big even for the Soapbox Derby because they only ran it one year starting right at our house.

When I got to the neighbors high porch I didn’t know what to do next.,  So, I yelled!,  “Mom!” I called.,  I was really scared now and a little ashamed too. I was the biggest and there I stood in the snow, yelling for Mom.,  I yelled again, really loud.,  There were lights in the neighbors house so they must have been up.,  Just as I yelled again, the door opened and there stood the neighbor lady at the door.,  Mom ran out and they brought me into their nice room.,  Now I was really embarrassed.,  I saw they had little glasses with something to drink.

Moms glass was at a nice chair she went back to with me but I could see she was upset.,  I think she was very embarrassed too.,  She said, “Im sorry” and “Thank you” to the neighbors and then set her glass down and,  rushed me home.,  I dont remember anything else about it that night but I am sure she put me back to bed.,  And the next morning, sure enough, the tractors were for Bill and me and the doll was for Ann.,  We played with them.

Mom and Dad may have put our things for,  Christmas under our tree instead of Santa Claus.,  Maybe they put them there just before Dad left for work.,  Maybe Mom was lonesome and needed someone to talk to.,  Im sure it wasnt easy to raise two ornery little kids plus me.,  I guess, when I ran to the neighbors I was really thinking, maybe Santa Claus was next door.,  Now that I think of it, that was probably right.

The next time I saw the little red chairs like we had in Rhythm Band was the Sunday morning, not long after that, when Mom took us kids to St. Pauls Lutheran Church.,  It was what they called “Sunday School.”,  There, in the big room for boys and girls they had an altar, smaller than the one in the church, but it had candles on it with what I learned later was a Bible.
It was Grandma Sassers church, I found out later.,  I dont think we went there very often then but later we got started going to the church service.

Just before Christmas time the next year the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.,  Dad went into the Navy and we came to live with Grandma and really started going to her church then.,  When I was nine, all of us kids were put into the Youth Choir at church.,  Sometimes we went to Sunday school too, but I dont remember that much.,  We did take Mrs. Tiner to church with us though.,  Some people said things about people like her because she was German.,  She was very small so I know she couldn’t hurt anyone.,  Mom made Bill and me help her and Grandma into church.,  Everyone always came up to Mom and said what nice boys we were.,  But, I knew it wasnt true because most Sundays Mom had to pinch us during the service.

Sometimes I remember back to that night when I couldn’t find Mom.,  I think when she heard my frantic voice on the front lawn as she sat there with the little glass it did something to change her.,  I dont know if that was the time but I do know that several years before she died she told me, “Ken, I wish we had all been Christians when you were growing up.,  It would have been a lot different.”,  I felt sorry for Mom that night because I knew I had embarrassed her.,  In a way, though, I guess I was really just looking for Santa Claus.,  As it turned out, I think he really was next door.

Merry Christmas!
Kenneth F. Pierpont

Comments

  1. Hey, Dad. I loved this story. There are pieces of history in it that I never knew before.

    I gathered the family and read it to them before the fire this evening in the Granville Cottage. Thanks, Dad. This is a great gift to me. It is every time you or mom write about your childhood or mine.

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