One time, when my friend Fred was in the 3rd grade he was out on the playground with his pal, Billy Trumper. It was the day after Christmas break, and the conversation went something like this:
Trumper: “So how’d you do?”
Fred: “Not too bad. Mom and dad gave me a record player and a watch. I got the usual amount of clothes from Nana, a hat and scarf and jacket. And Santa gave me a bike.”
Trumper: “What are you talking about?”
Trumper: “What do you mean Santa gave you a bike?”
Fred: “You know, there were the usual wrapped presents under the tree from the family. And then on Christmas morning, there was the stuff that was unwrapped, the stuff that wasn’t there when I went to bed the night before, the stuff from Santa Claus, and that’s where the bike was.”
Trumper: “Hey, brain surgeon, that was from your parents, too. There ain’t no Santa Claus.”
Fred: “What do you mean?”
Trumper: “I mean your parents have been lying to you, just like all parents. The parents are Santa Claus!”
Fred: “You’re crazy! That stuff wasn’t there the night before, I tell you.”
Trumper: “Duh! So you don’t think parents can get up after you go to sleep, sneak downstairs, and put all the rest of that stuff out?”
Fred: “You’re crazy!”
Trumper: “Think about it. Do you really believe some old, fat guy gets pulled around on a sleigh by flying reindeer, stopping on every roof, going down the chimney into the house, and carrying a big bag with presents so he can reward you for being a good boy? And all in one night? Besides, you’re not that good. And besides that, WE don’t even have a chimney at our house. How does he get in over there?”
Fred staggered off in an uneven walk into the abyss of the playground. He was trying to process all Billy had just told him, and it was way too much to figure out. He was shaken to the core, and had to do something, so he turned around, back toward his friend, and yelled at the top of his lungs, “BUT THE MILK AND COOKIES WERE GONE!”
That evening, when he got home, he found his mother at the kitchen sink.
“Hi honey,” she greeted him.
“Billy Trumper says there is no such thing as Santa Claus, that it’s really you and daddy who bring the presents from him after I’ve gone to bed.”
Mrs. Springstead could see her young son shaking and staring into her eyes, looking to her desperately for any adult explanation that would right his world.
“Billy Trumper is crazy,” his mother told him. “Now go do your homework, and I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”
That was good enough for him. He had known both Billy Trumper and his mother for roughly the same amount of time, which was all his life, and Trumper was crazy, while his mother, well, she was his mother, his oracle; everything she told him was true.
Besides, it was Trumper who told him that time when he got the chicken pox that he would turn into a chicken. And he was also the one who got Fred to eat about 50 carrots with him so they could see in the dark. But all he saw that night was a bunch of orange puke.
But later that night, lying in bed, the doubts crept in. He began remembering other things his mother had told him, things like if he swallowed a watermelon seed, one would grow in his stomach. He had proven that wrong many times, which also made him wonder if all that chewing gum really would be in his stomach for seven years, and if his face really would freeze that way.
He looked up at the door and saw his mother’s silhouette.
“Are you asleep?” she asked.
“Good, because I have something I need to tell you. Son, what I said earlier about there really being a Santa Claus – well, that was true, but not in the way you believe.”
This wasn’t sounding good, Fred thought.
His mother went on, “Santa Claus is the true spirit of Christmastime; the symbol of the love all parents have for their children.
What was this crap? Fred wondered. “So what you’re telling me is that Billy Trumper isn’t crazy?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that.”
“But it really is you and daddy that leave me the presents from Santa?”
“Yes, honey, that’s right.”
“Oh, OK. Good night, then.”
“Are you OK?”
“Do I still get the stuff?”
“Yeah, I’m OK.”
Jay Edwards is editor-in-chief of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.