It was a Christmas Eve long ago. As low man on staff I was left to put the paper to bed. By the time I got in the car to head out to the country to my parents' house, I decided to stop at the Corner Market. It never closed and was likely the only place open for a hundred miles.
I got some chocolate drops and a box of crackers in the unlikely event my father had forgotten our holiday ritual and our favorite snack. But there was a line of last-minute shoppers juggling oranges, apples, bottles of milk, and loaves of bread.
I noticed two pre-school boys who were waiting on their fathers to finish. One was bundled in a car coat and held a matching hat with ear flaps. The other was dressed in an obviously new cowboy outfit with two-gun holsters and a cowboy hat with fringe hanging from the brim. He was taking potshots at cans of peas on one aisle, clumping up and down in his new boots. The boys shyly started talking and the cowboy generously offered the other boy one of the pistols to admire.
It was obvious that the cowboy's young parents couldn't wait and that Santa had arrived at their house early. The two boys were deep in conversation and it seemed easy to read their minds. The cowboy was explaining that Santa had already come to his house and brought him his outfit. He turned at his father's call and they went out the front door. I could see the other 5-year-old standing quietly, with a look of panic on his face. Santa had a world to cover and if he had already been to his town what did that mean? He recalled his mom's admonishments of late: Pick up your toys or Santa won't bring you any more. Have you been a good boy this year?
We forget what it's like when you are that age. There is so much to learn, so much to discover. There is so much you don't know.
It broke my heart to watch him standing there in agony and I was tempted to go to him and set him straight. But his father finished his purchases and went to him. I thought I'd better tell him about his son's horrible misapprehension and walked over to them. I heard the father tell him, "Come on son, we have to get home and to bed. It's about time for Santa to come and you want to be asleep by then."
There was a look of hope and joy on the boy's face as his fear dissipated. They went out the door and got in the cab of a pickup, the boy standing in the front seat hanging on his dad's shoulder, jumping up and down with excitement. There could be no doubt now because daddy said so, and daddy knows everything.
I suppose the memory stuck with me because just for a few minutes I was allowed once again to view Christmas through the eyes of a child—the time of wonder, the time of terror, the time of expectation and the time of joy.
I got in my car, the chocolate drops and the crackers on the seat, and drove to my parents' home. My wife would be asleep in the guest bedroom and we would rise in the morning to a family Christmas.
The memory comes back to me and I wish with all my heart I could again experience one of those Christmas mornings where my dad and I would sit and eat our candy and crackers breakfast and smell the delicious aroma of lunch coming from my mother's stove while we discussed the day's bowl games.
I miss it now, the reassurance that came from thinking things would be alright because daddy said so, and since daddy was there it would be okay—even when I didn't listen to him. Now it's up to me to have answers and all I have are questions. I suppose my daddy felt the same way.
But I don't eat chocolate drops and crackers anymore. It's too painful.