Monday, December 17, 2012

Who IS Santa Anyway?

My dad tells a story of when he was a little boy. That Christmas they were very, very poor. On Christmas Eve, though the cupboards were empty and there were no gifts under the tree, Grandma Chatterton gave him and his brother a dime each to go buy a Christmas present for themselves to put under the tree from Woolworth's Five and Dime. He and Uncle Jack went to the store together. They were ragamuffin kids, dressed in patched hand-me-downs and holes in their shoes. A nicely dressed woman stopped to talk to them in the store. She asked about what they wanted from Santa and what they were doing there that day. They told her Grandma had told them Santa wouldn't be coming that year. When the woman turned to leave she reached out and grasped Uncle Jack's 9 year old hand and squeezed hard as she wished them a Merry Christmas. Jack's hand was smarting from the squeeze after she left so he looked down at his hand and only then realized she had pressed a $20 bill in his palm. It was as though she had handed them a million dollars!

The first thing they did was to rush to the grocery store to get all the fixings for a fancy Christmas dinner- a big ham, potatoes, yams. They also bought a big sack of both flour, beans and rice. After that they bought Gma some warm wool gloves and a hat and for little sister Odena (Rosalie wasn't yet born) a new baby doll. Jack picked out a gift to surprise Dad with and Dad picked one out for Jack. The Five and Dime wrapped gifts for free so they had the 4 gifts wrapped. Those little boys went to bed that night happy and at peace. They would wake up and have a gift to open on Christmas and both felt as though THEY had been given the gift of BEING Santa.

Christmas morning everyone slept late. There was no reason to hurry. That one present wasn't going to take long to open. The boys woke to the smell of pancakes cooking. Gma had whipped up her familiar pan size flap jacks with the flour they had bought. As they were eating breakfast they heard a knock on the door at that house on California Avenue in Salt Lake City, Utah. Dad went to answer it and when he opened the door he found noone there but the porch was covered in boxes filled with brightly wrapped gifts. Six boxes in all. A card attached said Love Santa.

Both Jack and Dad got what they had asked Santa for earlier. Needless to say there was much hooting and hollering as little boys realized that 'Santa' had not forgotten them. They all got new warm hats and gloves and socks. there were Christmas cookies and candy canes. there were toys and new pajamas and slippers. there was a beautiful, warm bathrobe and slippers for Gma. And that is the meaning of Santa in the Dotson family.

And...that lesson was perpetuated when my own kids were young. It was Christmas 1989. Adam and Matt were 9 and Kaycee was 7. I was married to Kelly then and we were living in Lafayette CO. Our marriage was failing so it was a dark time. We were also very broke but we scrounged enough money to buy gas to make it to Mom & Dad's back in Lyman WY. We had no money for food on the road so we made sandwiches and koolaid. We only had enough money to get the kids two presents each. Kaycee was getting a Cabbage patch doll (whose name was Mindy Marjorie and whose name would forever become the infamous Mindy Margerine) from Santa and PJs from us. Matt and Adam were getting something from Santa each (I don't remember what) and PJs. The PJs would be opened on Christmas Eve so each kid would only have one gift under the tree on Christmas morning. Kelly and I had not gotten gifts for each other or anyone else.

The trip up to WY from CO was smooth and uneventful but very quiet and subdued. Our family was breaking apart and everyone in that car either knew that or could sense it.

We arrived in WY to a house also in despair as my parents financial situation was crumbling and they were getting ready to file for bankruptcy and to move from the house they had built. It was dark and quiet in all of our hearts but the gift of being together with family on Christmas when the earth was shifting in all our lives was lost on no one.

After opening the traditional Christmas Eve PJs gift we sent the kids to bed and turned in early ourselves. We were looking forward to Norwegian pancakes for breakfast but dreading seeing the kids faces when they realized how few gifts there would be.

We woke to the glorious smell of coffee brewing as three little kids shook us awake demanding we hurry and get up. Santa had come and they wanted to open their gifts. We all made our way to the living room and postponed the inevitable look of disappointment on the kids faces by pouring a cup of coffee for all the adults. There were a number of gifts under the tree. Shaun, who was a teenager, had some gifts and then each of our three kids had two, one from Santa and one from Gma and Gpa. Just as they were settling into realizing that the two gifts were the extent of their Christmas the phone rang. Gma answered it, listened for a moment and then hung up. Ten minutes later she asked the subdued kids if they'd heard a knock on the door. They had not nor had we. She insisted they check the door anyway which they did complaining all the while and when they opened the door they found the porch covered with boxes of brightly wrapped Christmas gifts.

Mindy Margerine made out best. She had a pink plastic stroller, high chair and crib. She had new clothes and blankets, plastic baby food, plastic baby utensils and plastic dishes. Everything Mindy Magerine related was pink. The boys got an Atari 2000 with several games. There were gifts for all the adults, for Shaun and lots for the kids.

Those were some excited kids I will tell you. 'Santa' Dotson style had showed up in the lives of our whole family once again. And it wasn't just presents 'Santa' brought that year. He brought hope and strength because even though we knew the things that were getting ready to happen would certainly happen we were infused with hope and the knowledge that we were loved and cared about. We all knew we would be okay.

That trip home to CO was treacherous. it was a blizzard the whole trip home and we must have looked a sight when we pulled up to our log house in Lafayette with a Topaz blanketed in ice and snow with plastic doll furniture tied to the trunk, caked in ice as well.

And that is what Santa means Dotson/Mackley style.

I will forever have in my minds eye tying pink plastic baby doll furniture all over the luggage rack on the back of our Mercury Topaz for the trip home from what had turned out to be our family's most memorable Christmas.

And that was Christmas Mackley/Dotson style. It's not really who Santa is but what Santa does.

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