Saturday, December 22, 2018

Good Stories


I must've been a Doubting Debbie early on, because I sure don't remember being traumatized by hearing Santa Claus wasn't actual, even though I've been assured by the Internet that I should have been. Apparently I've blanked out the entire bruising episode. It's possible my parents didn't hit the subject too hard to begin with. They never trotted out the bit about Santa knowing if you're good or bad, because being bad was not presented as an option in our family, and I'd already gotten the idea that being just a little bit bad was only a matter of opinion. My opinion was that I wasn't. I was conducting an experiment, or I was just trying to see what was inside that thing, or I had no idea who tracked that in, or I wandered away because where else is there to wander?

I don't remember any big tragic scenes in school, either. No kids blubbering in their cubbies. I suppose existential Santa questions came up in conversation but it didn't make much of an impression on me, as long as there were still presents coming from somewhere. And Advent calendars with all the little doors. And Life Savers in a book. And chocolate coins in gold foil. And the chaos of wrapping paper. I was fine with a good story; it didn't have to be a documentary. Give me a good story and I'll sail away on it. I didn't expect to get to Narnia from my own wardrobe, either.

And I got to hear a lot of stories. Dad used to read them to me. There was an earnest pig and a clever spider. There was Mr. Toad of Toad Hall. There was an elephant's child who got his trunk, and I know how.

Then there were all the church stories. The ark, the manger, the shepherds abiding. And of course God, who was nice like all the other Lutherans. I could go along with all that. Some of the details seemed far-fetched. Like heaven, or hell, or baptism (really? That's the deal-breaker?), or the Trinity (why a committee?). Or a grisly execution that somehow saves us all. Mercy! All this strategizing to be able to live forever, just because we can't bear it otherwise. And the one about God answering our prayers! Okay, I guess, as long as we can take "No" for an answer.

It must have been my nature. Lots of things I was told didn't stick with me. I should put a sweater on. Or quit riding my bike after dark. Or save myself for marriage. There were so many stories, and I listened politely and then--according to my mother--did whatever the hell I wanted to do anyway. She didn't say "the hell," but it was heavily implied in her eyebrow region.

And then after a while God didn't seem all that important either--or more to the point, the existence of God didn't explain anything any better than the existence of Santa Claus. Of course, I was not raised with the judgmental version of either one, so there wasn't really a penalty involved in folding them up neatly and storing them with other childhood treasures.

I still believe in Santa Claus, as much as I ever did. Santa, and Mr. Toad, and the miraculous eternity of baby spiders.

28 comments:

  1. God is Santa Claus for grown-ups.

    You must be a Questioner, like I am. I must have driven the nuns crazy with asking how something could possibly happen in the Bible when it didn't make sense. And I've always just nodded my head and said yes when told to do something a certain way, and then just did what I wanted to do anyway.

    I distinctly remember an elderly aunt trying to convince me that Santa Claus was real when I was a child. I was unconvinced, and even felt a little sorry for her obvious delusion. I knew very well that my various relatives gave me the gifts -- why would Santa send it to them to give to me when he supposedly knew where I lived? I didn't care, as long as they kept coming.

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    1. It sounds to me as though you had nun deflection technology built right in. Served you well, I think.

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  2. Christmas morning, we kids running into the living room utterly amazed at the pile of presents Santa had left for us, and the bulging stockings. Right behind came our parents and grandmother, oohing and awwing (ahhing?) right along with us. They, too, were stunned and amazed and touched by the magic of Santa having done it again. How they egged us on, pointing out the cookie crumbs Santa left, and that the Milkbone dog biscuits we had put out for the reindeer were gone.

    A few weeks later, when the film was developed and the envelope of prints came back, there were a number of photos showing the beautiful tree, the floor heaped with presents, the stockings overflowing.

    And in the photos, it was night-time.

    Those photos of Santa's bounty that my parents had taken...were at night.

    My parents' surprise on Christmas morning was...had to be...pretend.

    SANTA...is...must be...had to be...pretend! Santa Claus is pretend?!?

    I remember sitting there as the reality sank in. Of course, Santa is pretend. Of course. Look how long it took us to load everyone into the car, drive to the store, and come back. All morning. How could Santa cover the entire world in one night when it took us half a day to cover one grocery trip? How could I have been so dumb as to believe that?

    And then slowly it dawned on me that we were ALL playing the pretend game. We were in it together, even if some of us didn't know. And to the earth it gave a great light, and so it continued both day and night.

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    1. I still have my first "Santa" visit picture from when I was 2 years old. I was crying my ass off, wanting to get out of there. Just goes to show that I was wise for my years; when an old man in a red suit who reeks of alcohol wants little children to sit on his lap, it's undoubtedly wise to scream and cry and get the hell out of there.

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    2. Susan, you can take over my blog anytime. Oh, I also kind of remember being perched on Santa's lap, because it was not where I wanted to be. I'm not sure who I thought he was but he sure made me uncomfortable.

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    3. My Santa Claus was in a department store in the distant city...looking back, I think someone must have been enlightened as he didn't have children perched on his thigh (no kid sits on a knee!).There was a kiddy-sized chair to sit on. And when I told him, in answer to his request for a slice of Christmas Cake and a glass of beer, that "we don't have beer at our house and we don't cut our cake til after dinner.But I can leave you a glass of fruit salts." he chuckled and said, "Well, that'll help me get up the chimney quickly."

      If it's your thing to celebrate, I wish you joy of it. If not, well, I still hope some of the jollity permeates. Cheers!

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    4. OHHH! My Santa will ask for beer and cake! I never thought of it!

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  3. There always seems to be one sentence in your writing that leaps out at me, and today's is "All this strategizing to be able to live forever, just because we can't bear it otherwise." It rings like a very loud church bell. You nailed it, Murr.

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    1. Now there's an interesting simile, under the circumstances!

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    2. Did you think it was accidental? :D

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  4. For me the lines were”I wandered away because where else is there to wander?”

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  5. What do you mean Santa isn't real? Didn't it say that he was real in the N.Y. Times? I mean it isn't like Trump said it in which case we would know it's a lie.

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    1. I distinctly remember a documentary about Santa Clause being proved real by the Post Office. The good old Post Office.

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  6. geeezzz...just the words, "the miraculous eternity of baby spiders" was enough to make me well up. Terrific!

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  7. Hooray for stories. This Elephant's Child grew up with lots of them, some of them repeated so often that decades later I can still recite slabs of them. Santa and the Easter Bunny (and God for that matter) weren't among those stories.

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    1. Oh there's definitely an Easter Bunny. He brings chocolate. We have the chocolate to prove it. Or we did.

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  8. First of all - the line that grabbed me was: She didn't say "the hell," but it was heavily implied in her eyebrow region.

    Secondly - I honestly figured out about Santa because it occurred to me when I was about - I dunno - six? - that the Easter Bunny wasn't real, which meant, I felt certain, that Santa couldn't be real either. Chocolate notwithstanding.

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    1. Our Easter Bunny started with jelly beans until it was determined I wouldn't bother to look for them, then he switched to M&Ms.

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  9. We were poor, really poor, go to the auction for toys poor. No need to talk about Santa or God, we knew instinctively that the world was not a safe place or a cheap place or a kind place. God and Santa didn't seem to care.

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  10. I don't recall any trauma about Santa or the Easter Bunny not being real and I always knew the tooth fairy didn't visit my house, she always ran out of coins doing the richer side of town. We kids didn't care, we had new teeth growing anyway. As for everything else, we were just happy being us, as long as there was home and food and the beach nearby, all was good in our world.

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    1. The Tooth Fairy is kind of a weird gig, all in all.

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