Tuesday, December 25, 2018

How I ruined Christmas for everyone

Raised by old-time Southern Baptists with a solid sense of right and wrong, truth and error, sin and salvation, I never believed in Santa Claus. My parents and grandparents did not encourage their young Ozarks Boy to believe in Right Jolly Old Elf, and as we did not have television out there in the middle of nowhere, I did not have a real sense of who he was supposed to be.

Oh, sure, I knew a little about Santa Claus. He was the guy in the Christmas parade who, when the parade in that small town ended, climbed off the fire truck, pulled up a chair next to the street and handed out little brown paper sacks of candy to each and every kid. I also was acquainted with the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer because we had a Little Golden Book, or something similar, about him and Santa Claus.

But even before I started school, I knew that Santa Claus was “just a story” for “little kids” whose “moms and dads tell them that’s where Christmas presents come from.” As those statements are in quotes from my memory, I suppose that my parents told me that. Or maybe it was my buddy Stevie Kay who lived up the road from us and at a year older was far more worldly and knowing. Maybe Stevie told me about the storybook quality of Santa and Mama and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa just didn’t deny that he told the truth, so I drew my own conclusion. Memory is not quite clear at my advanced age.

Memory of the kindergarten Christmas party is quite clear, though, for it was traumatic for my classmates, the teacher, the room mothers, my mother and, of course, for me.

We had cupcakes and Kool-Aid for refreshments, and then the room mothers started asking kids what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas. When it was my turn, I did the right and moral thing, I informed everyone that “Santa Claus ain’t real.” The room shuddered and, after a brief gasp, cried. No, the room wailed. Everybody was angry at me. Mrs. Bloch, the teacher, and Mrs. Henry, the main room mother, were glaring at my mother. Girls were crying. Boys were crying. 

The party came to a quick end for me, as my mother grabbed my coat and ushered me the hell out of the school house.

“What’s wrong?” I asked on the quiet drive home. “There ain’t no Santa Claus, is there?”

I was deeply hurt that everyone was angry at me, and I was mystified why all the kids were bawling their eyes out and why the teachers and room mothers were angry.

My mother said I shouldn’t have told the kids that there was no Santa because it ruined Christmas for them. That mystified me even more.

“Well, it’s the truth, ain’t it,” I said, hoping perhaps that she would say, “No, there really is a Santa.” But she didn’t. She said, “Yes, it is the truth, but sometimes you don’t have to tell everything you know.”

That was an important lesson in life. Unfortunately, it was one lost on me, for I grew up to be a newspaper reporter who continued to tell everything he knew, trying to tell the truth with no regard for people’s feelings.

That would have been in 1958, a time of innocence for me, my family, our small town, the state of Missouri and our nation.

Our nation has been on a downhill slide since then; I hope I didn’t have anything to do with that.

Merry Christmas.

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