Santa and the Secret Place

December 20, 2020

As a kid, we looked forward to going to downtown Columbus, Georgia, at Christmas time to see the beautiful window displays, but more importantly, to see Santa Claus. According to my parents, the only real Santa was in Kirven’s Department Store. The other Santas around town, including the one at the new Kirven’s in Columbus Square, were “Santas helpers.”

To see Santa, you walked up white stone stairs to a balcony that overlooked the store. I distinctly remember the smell of hair dye from the adjacent beauty parlor in that area. The majority of the balcony was set aside for Santa Claus. I can remember sitting in Santa’s lap and looking down at the shoppers on the main floor.

“What do you want from Santa this Christmas? Have you been a good boy? Ho ho ho!” I’m sure I answered in the affirmative whether it was true or not. I don’t remember what I asked for that particular year, but my idyllic Christmas with Santa, reindeer, and the North Pole and all that comes with it was soon shattered. Let me explain.

Our house on 33rd Place in Phenix City, Alabama (a short jaunt over the Chattahoochee and you were in downtown Columbus) was built with a split-level design that overlooked the river’s muddy water. There was a small utility room underneath the stairs that was a great hiding place for games of hide and seek. I don’t recall why I opened the door to the room that day. I just remember the elation I felt at the scene that was laid out before me.

Toys everywhere!. New toys! They were already assembled, and as far as I was concerned, they were all mine. Besides the Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, one I distinctly remember seeing had a blue track that a space-like vehicle hung onto as it flipped upside down. Now my seven-year-old self did not put Christmas and these toys in the same category. I believed someone had put them in there, and it was a secret from the entire family. I didn’t tell a soul, not even my siblings. I did not like to share. I spent hours in that room under the stairs playing with toys that no one else knew about.

 Christmas Eve was always spent with my maternal grandparents. After I stood at the head of the table and read the Christmas story from Luke chapter two, we would enjoy dinner together and then, of course, the real reason we were there, presents! These gifts were from Granny and Paw Paw, not Santa. On the way home, we would stop by Golden Donuts and buy fresh, hot, wonderfully smelling donuts for Christmas morning, and a snack for Santa. The real Saint Nick ate Golden donuts, not cookies. Those must’ve been for Santas helpers!

On Christmas morning, I remember coming up the stairs and being blinded by the Super Eight camera, and it’s corresponding light bar. I would have green spots where the four bulbs were in my eyes for the next 10 minutes. Opening presents in our household was way different than opening presents with my wife’s family. We all grabbed a box and opened them at the same time. It was loud and chaotic. Imagine my dismay when one of those presents that had been designated to my brother, Ande, had the very same toy that I had been playing with in the room under the stairs. I remember thinking, “Wait a minute! These are the same toys I’ve been playing with for the last week. Does that mean Santa is not real?” I was disillusioned.

My parents came up with a creative explanation that Santa had to drop those toys off earlier in the week and place them in that room under the stairs. He has lots of little boys and girls he has to deliver to, so he delivered to our house first. It seemed a plausible explanation, and for the next year or so or a regained my trust in Santa.  

By the time I was 10, I was reasonably sure that Santa did not exist, but of course, I still hedged my bets and asked him for a minibike. I really wanted one of those motorized beauties to ride around our acre property anytime I wanted. I was convinced that Santa was going to provide such a vehicle. If he didn’t, then I’d be sure he was not real!

Christmas morning came, and we once again,” faced the bright lights” and headed upstairs. I remember doing a quick survey of the room, and to my dismay, there was no minibike. Opening my other presents did not feel magical. I was disappointed. I know my parents could read my face. That minibike was all that I had talked about for weeks. When the presents were unwrapped, my mom asked me to go into the kitchen and get a pair of scissors. Imagine my excitement when I walked into the kitchen, and there IT was! A beautiful blue mini bike and it was all mine! Despite my doubts, Santa came through for me, after all.

That was the last year I bought the myth that was Santa Claus. It didn’t matter. At that time, Santa was real and brought me exactly what I wanted.

If Santa asks this year, I have been a good boy in 2020.

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