I’ve written about flashbulb memories before, this isn’t one of them. Two distinctly separate memories merge to create this story, which didn’t happen in a flash but is seared in my memory as if it did. Two whole days with dad, separated by a couple of seasons, mark 1963 in my memory.
Reason tells me that I must have been at least five but perhaps I was younger. The JFK assassination intertwines with life on The Ponderosa, (the TV show, not the one where I worked in Florida).
I was old enough to know that my red tights and pajamas were weird, or maybe I was just ahead of the fashion curve. To complete the ensemble I had a lollipop as big as my head that I couldn’t open until we got home. I held it in my hands all day rendering the wrapper’s removal impossible.
Good things (like surprises) and bad things (like surprises) cause us to remember selectively, to omit, to embellish. But this is what happened to me. It happened when others had no trouble believing, because it happened to them, too.
This is about my trip to Santa’s house.
A little back-story: It wasn’t my first time there with dad. I have a sliver of memory, of being in my tall father’s arms, the men shaking hands, an exchange of envelopes, an almost embarrassed look flashing on my father’s face as if a child shouldn’t see such a deal going down.
Maybe the same summer, another visit to this neighbor’s house, during the dreaded, regularly scheduled Adirondack black-fly season, I had a special day with my dad that included a trip to the lumber yard. It was special because there my father got me a bucket of sawdust, which I had been pestering for. A tall spindly man with a dirty white beard swept some in a bucket right off the floor and handed it to me. I was convinced that I could mix sawdust with water and mud and make sculptures that would then dry out and be permanent.
Delighted for the for access to my imagined sculpting material, I inhaled the delicious (yet asthma-inducing) smell of the lumberyard. I couldn’t believe substance central to my creative idealizations was now in my possession, and free!
We had a little deck that I used for many things over the years, mainly my singing stage. On this particular summer the deck served as a base for several plinths that would showcase the sawdust sculptures (nothing more than moist globs of allergy inducing, ant-hoarding, splinter-causing fodder).
The deck was cement and our hand-prints were in the corner, my sister’s and mine. I made sawdust pies and pressed them into the family hand-prints and matched them to my own growing hands. These are the details my adult brain uses to convince me that I was likely about 4 or 5 the next winter when I went to Santa’s house.
I understood from a young age that there had to be several Santas. I knew that one guy did not deliver presents all over the world. As we spent half of our nomadic gypsy-like childhood driving from Florida to New Jersey to the Adirondacks, my sister’s and I would discuss these logistics with flashlights under our pale pink plaid blankets with the ultra softy edges.
I decreed that one supervisory Santa was in charge of the store Santas that one would see at places like Two-Guys. I remember knowing that people got paid to don these outfits and allow children to yack their ears off.
Then of course there were the people who made the toys. Already cynical about elves, I had no trouble accepting that the toys one saw in the stores were like living catalogs of items the genuine Santa would be supplying as soon as the snow started falling.
It was freezing the night my father bundled me up in my coat, over my pajamas, to take me for a very short ride. We didn’t even have a chance to warm-up the truck, yet in the twinkle of an eye, we arrived at a very warm house. We had cats at home, but this house contained the largest, fluffiest white cat I had ever seen, and it came over and rubbed on me, with it’s little motor running loudly.
The lady of the house told my father to sit me down, but he didn’t. He told her he had to get the baby home, and handed her an envelope. I had no idea that the baby he was talking about was me, so I started looking about for one. Then in walked Santa Claus.
For a moment, daddy looked shocked and horrified, but Santa kept his cool, and motioned for everyone to sit down.
“Why, who do we have here?” This interest was not all television-y and condescending but sincere and genuine.
I was dizzy taking in the scene. The white fluffy cat was circling my father, the man with the white beard appeared to be in his red underwear (I would later learn it was a called a union suit), the beard was covered with some thick-looking smelly blue stuff (to keep it white, it was explained).
The house smelled like fresh baked cookies and ammonia. When I got a little older, I would associate this smell with the perms administered by my mom, a professional hairdresser, but also with Santa.
Despite the efforts of all present, I remained mute in stunned silence. It was one of two times in my life people were trying to get me to talk, and there I was, speechless.
In response to this week’s multi-media challenge: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/multimedia-storytelling-challenge/#more-62389
Listen to me read this post here: http://jayesbrain.tumblr.com/post/69640932395/jaye-janet-reading-her-christmas-memory-from 1963
For a tad more media, listen to my favorite Christmas carol here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFbE9ZStums