Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why I believe

First of all, let me say that we are mountain folks, Appalachians and have been in the Appalachian Mountains since the 1750s. Mountain folks are simple, soft spoken and on the quiet side (I broke out of that mold). My Daddy fit that mold perfectly. He spoke little, was not one to say things like "I love you" or "I'm proud of you". He used to kid that he told Mama he loved her when they got married and if that changed he would let her know.

Mama was the gift giver, the hugger, the talker. She was the one who decorated lavishly for the holidays, especially Christmas. She was the one who bought the presents, who read us stories. Daddy just "hmmphed" when we talked about Santa and Christmas. He watched us open presents, but never went on and on about them like Mama did.

Christmas was a wonderful time, a time of food, comfort food, mountain food... family - yes lots and lots of family gatherings AND presents. Big extended families always meant lots of presents. Many were simple, many family members had little to give but everyone gave what they could. My Grandma was the best. She started buying right after Christmas so every single person had a gift under her tree.

After the family gatherings on Christmas Eve we would come home, my little brother and I would get PJs on and with the awe of a child pour a glass of milk and put out two - exactly two cookies (one from each of us). Mama told us we had to be in bed and asleep for Santa to come. We giggled and snickered, promising each other we would stay awake though we never really did.

Each Christmas I remember hearing the jingle of sleigh bells and the sound of hooves hitting our roof. I just was never able to wake up enough to go to the window and look. Sometimes we would be up at 3:00 am trying to open the presents Santa left.

Then when I was 11 years old my Daddy brought home a helicopter with a 3 foot cable and a crank on the end. He would crank like crazy and the helicopter would fly! It was a Daddy toy and he would put it up high in a closet so we couldn't get at it.

In the summer our next door neighbor Kitty took care of us while Mama and Daddy worked. I couldn't get that helicopter off my mind and told Kitty I needed to go in our house to get something. I suspected Daddy had hidden his helicopter in the tall shelved closet at the end of the hallway.

I went in and down the hallway, opened the doors to the closet and used the shelves as a ladder. When I was at the top I hung on with one hand and felt around the top shelf with the other. Several things fell out with a jingle and jangle.

I looked down... and climbed down. There in the pile of things from the top shelf were sleigh bells. I picked them up and shook them and immediately recognized the jingle I heard each Christmas as I fell into slumber. I was horrified. I was betrayed. My childhood came crashing down around my ears. I put everything back, knowing that what the bigger boys said had to be true. There was no Santa.

I never told my little brother, didn't tell anyone. I did determine to stay awake Christmas Eve and look out the window. I figured it was my Mom. She was the one that decorated and went on and on about Christmas.

The year went quickly, too quickly for an 11 year old who had grown up too fast. I was quiet during the Christmas Eve celebrations. I obediently helped pour the milk and put out exactly 2 cookies, knowing it was for naught, wondering who actually would eat them.

Mama told us we had to go to sleep so Santa could come. I teared up and cried in my pillow a bit, knowing big boys didn't cry. I cried because I knew Santa wouldn't really be there.

I stayed awake, waiting. I was going to look out this time, see the lie in person... maybe look my Mom in the eye.

After my little brother was sleeping soundly my Mama looked in. I breathed slowly, pretending to be asleep. She left. The front door opened and closed quietly.

Then the sound of sleigh bells and the thumping that I always thought was tiny reindeer hooves landing on the roof.

I quietly got out of bed. The bedroom door was open a crack and I looked out. Mama was quietly putting presents under the tree. So, who was jingling the sleigh bells?

I ran on tiptoes to my window, pushed back the curtains just enough to look out. And there he was, he was real!

There stood my Daddy, coat on, cigarette in his mouth as he made snowballs and threw them on the roof, one after another in a pattern that the next day would look like 8 reindeer had landed. Occasionally he would shake the sleigh bells quietly so 2 little boys would hear them in their sleep. The whole time he had the biggest grin on his face.

Somehow the mantle of Santa had wrapped itself around my Daddy that night as he stood there. It wrapped itself around that simple mountain man and he was transformed in my little 11 year old heart. My Daddy WAS Santa that night.

The next morning I watched Daddy closer. He had a quiet smile on his face as little brother and Mama went on and on about Santa. I never told anyone about that night for years.

Many years later I asked Daddy for those sleigh bells when I had a little girl named Kelly. I told Daddy the story I am telling you. He got up, went to his closet and brought them to me with tears in his eyes. I hugged Santa right then and there and told him I loved him. He told me "same here". As I drove home the power of who I was to become hit me and I wept. My Daddy had passed a heritage of quiet love along to me.

That Christmas I waited till my little one was asleep, The mantle of Santa fell on me as I quietly went outside and began to throw snowballs on the roof and occasionally jingled the sleigh bells.

My little one is grown now, the sleigh bells are still in my closet but they still have the same magic. Occasionally I shake them, hear them jingle...

And I believe all over again.