Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The waiting

Just about now as I write this, on any Christmas morning when I was very young in the 1950's, would be the waiting time. We lived in the house on Allen Street which had been my grandfather's, who died two years (almost to the day) before I was born. The house was now owned by my Uncle Bob. We lived there with my Aunt Lorraine  my father, my brother, and myself all sharing the premises.

My brother and I shared one room, the same room my Dad and Uncle Bob had shared before us.   My bed was closest to the windows, which were in a square shaped bay window which jutted out from the house creating a space just big enough for a 5 or 6 year old to occupy. I would spend many anxious hours, propped up against my toy-box, peering out the window which looked out towards the street. We didn't have a chimney. Santa Claus would have to come in using the front door, and would have to come in from the street. I listened intently, waiting for jingle bells.

From time to time, making sure Lew was asleep, I would ever so carefully open the bedroom door and sneak over to the stairs. This required a little effort, as the small room just at the top of the stairs was my Dad's bedroom. Trembling until I was a quivering bowl of jelly, I would inch carefully down enough steps to be able to peer into the living room. We had put the Christmas tree up the night before, and I could make it out standing tall and proud in the dark. But there was no sign of Santa.

Around 7am or so, all of us would go downstairs at the same time to see the wonderland of gorgeous gifts, most wrapped to disguise their nature in pretty papers and ribbon. All of the gifts had been cleverly placed around the tree and on the chairs and sofa in a manner which would frustrate anyone peeping down the stairs from seeing them in the dark. Aha! Santa knew about last year. Tricky old guy. We were not allowed to touch, shake, poke, or open anything. We had to wait for breakfast to be done.

We were allowed to open whatever was in our stockings. Mine usually had a new toothbrush, a little box of chocolates, several items of a useful nature, and in the toe of the stocking a number of pieces of coal, depending on how bad Santa thought I'd been that year. The crowning stocking achievement was a comic book or two, which would keep me busy until Aunt Lorraine had breakfast ready.

Breakfast almost made things worse, as my place at the table situated me at a spot where I could look directly at the tree and all the presents. Eventually, the breakfast that took a few stabs at eternity would be finished. We would would first have to help with the cleanup, washing the dishes and so on and so forth. Uncle Bob was a big kid at Christmas in those days, and I sometimes think the waiting drove him crazy, too. In fact, deep within the reaches of Christmas Morning memories I think there was one Christmas in which the dishes were cleared but left in the sink - something that hadn't happened in that house since the end of World War Two.

Finally, after a few years had gone by, we would all go into the living room. A box would be brought in for the ribbons and bows, which we always saved. The family had gone through the Depression and the Second World War. We saved things that could be reused. 50 plus years later, I  can still point to the kitchen drawer under and to the right of the sink where cleaned aluminum foil would go next to a ball of string. We would take our places around the tree - the adults would get the sofa and chairs, we kids would sit on the floor. In a process that would be shared by all of us in turn, someone would start by reaching under the tree, pulling out a present, reading aloud the name on the tag (even though Uncle Bob, my brother and I all knew exactly which present was whose) and passing it along. My name would be called. Something would make its way towards where I sat on the floor. My eyes would grow as big as that year's lumps of coal as my hands stretched out to take the holy offering. The waiting was over.

Merry Christmas, everyone.
And Thank You Santa Claus for all my toys.