Jenny danced up and down the hallway. “Is it time, mom? Is it time? Are we ready to wake them up?”
Ally still sees her on tippy toe, hears her begging, and feels her tugging at her shirttails.
“Almost time, Jen. Let’s get our red slippers so we can walk quietly to them. We don’t want to frighten them.”
And off Jen would go to fetch the slippers. Ally smiled at the remembering.
“I’ll get them, mom. I’ll get yours too. I’ll hurry.” Jen’s anticipation was glorious.
Ally collected Santas: a little passion forever indulged. She kept them under the staircase in a wine cellar lair that had become their 11-month home. They slept there, lovingly laid to rest each January. They hibernated, she liked to say, and Jenny knew they needed this rest. December was their moment.
Ally’s mother had not been one for clutter. Once something lost its purpose, she gave it away and decorating for the holidays made a mess. The pine smells of her early childhood were replaced by a silvery pseudo tree by the time she was 8. The tree arrived in a box from Sears Roebuck and its branches were wrapped in plastic. You stuck each branch into a metal painted post and soon it resembled a futuristic tree. Mom bought plain glass balls, pinky reds and not near grassy green enough for Ally’s liking. Tinsel was messy, only one year of tinsel, and lights got tangled; so no lights.
Her mom bought a revolving wheel set-up that had colored plastic pie wedges: red, blue, green, yellow, orange, and they revolved over and over again. The wheel rotated before a spotlight that clicked as it cast colors over the sparkling silver tree. Ally knew it was awful, even at the age of 8.
Her dad tried to do a real Christmas a few times. He convinced mom to get a Lionel train that choo-chooed through a village with trees and stores that he’d crafted for days and set up on a grandstand in the living room. He made a terrible mess with papier-mâché and paint. Mom was furious. A civil war ensued and Christmas was almost called off. He tried roasting chestnuts one year and forgot to open the flue. Too much mess for mom. Too much stress for dad. Ally knew she’d make Christmas beautiful and warm one day.
Jen’s voice rings sweetly in Ally’s memory. “I’m coming, mom. Here are your slippers. I just know they’re ready mom. I missed them so much and they’ll be so excited to come out.”
Jen and Ally put on their crimson slippers of the season and made their way to the wine room. It was, at last, time to welcome the season. John had long ago lined the walls of this room with cedar, giving it warmth and a strong foresty scent. He transformed the wine racks to cedar shelving to embrace their collection of Santa Claus figures. Ally kept all the decorations there, but the Santas were meant to be nestled in this especially fine home. They lay on red tissue pillows in beautiful colored cardboard boxes. Some boxes were velvety, some shiny red or green, some old antique finds and others specially made for these guys to rest. All the boxes were marked in her best calligraphy with labels that said:
Hibernating Santas. PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB!
They napped beside one another. The mantle guys rested head to head or head to toe; some chatting the months away; some tickling their buddy’s toes or wiggling their own black boots. It depended on their size, and, oh, they were varied indeed. Some were wooden and expertly carved, some sculpted from richly colored clays with hand-painted features, some crafted from fine old fabrics, Belgian laces or tatted doilies. Neither Ally nor Jen could wait to get their eyes or hands on their old friends.
Jen sneaked peeks at them through the year. She had been able to read the labels for a while now, but she couldn’t help herself. She was quiet and secretive about her visits to the hallowed hideaway, careful not to bother them or rearrange things too much. Sometimes it was in late winter when they’d barely closed their eyes, or maybe in springtime, when missing them got overwhelming. She came in summer, too, when the room was cool and mom was outside in the garden. Usually she stole away while mom was cooking or talking in whispers to dad.
She’d go inside and switch the lights to dim. She’d lift a few lid covers and check on them, one magical box at a time. They were always okay, but she must be sure, and she was always hoping to find them in a little chat with one another or stretching. She never had found them amiss so far but she checked the mantle Santas and then looked in on the tree fellows.
There were boxes and boxes to examine, and she hadn’t much time. There was one beautiful red velvet box that was just Jen’s Santas, eight years worth, and she surely must tend to them. Oh, how careful she must be because mom said they must be left to rest so they’re able to report for December duty.
She had a little talk with each of the China Santas. She loved them best; their regal robes were hand-painted and there was special gold paint on their long sleeved coats and coattails. One held a staff. Another had a bag, like the real Santa, with toys spilling over the brim, and one was Pere Noel. He was straight from Paris, and he had come home with mom and dad long before she was born. She would very much like to take one from the box, unearth him from his soft cotton bedding and look at him more carefully. She didn’t especially like talking with these three through their covers.
Ally caught the wonder of Christmas as if she was a child all over again every December, and she had shared this wonder with her child. The day had come. A towering Noble Pine nearly kissed the tall ceiling: lit and ready for trimming. Wreaths were hung at the entry and over the mantles, mistletoe was at the doorway and the windows glowed with flickering candles. The yard pines were adorned with lights and the family was ready to welcome their long awaited guests. The stage was set.
Together, mother and daughter walked into their Santa room. Mom put the lights on and looked around. They both stopped, silent. Something was amiss. Colored tissue paper lay helter-skelter, some boxes were downed, and lids here and there, on or off the shelves. Some Santas seemed to have been sleepwalking. Some lay face down or on their sides. Some looked stunned. Those who could sit, sat askew and some who were fragile, looked broken.
Tears welled in Ally’s eyes and fell down her cheeks. It was a mess. She dared not look at Jen.
Alice C. Meek, MA is an educator, wife, mother, writer and life-long learner. She strives to communicate the acceptance of one’s little life through oral and written storytelling.