If You Don’t Tell Santa What You Want, You Won’t Get Anything ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
We lived in a small town with small stores, where there was no sit-down Santa to talk to. The nearest big stores were in the city two hours away. Every year my mother and grandma took my sister and me to see Santa and do some Christmas shopping.
I was little and didn’t know any better so I liked the city, which was so unlike the town we lived in. I liked the cars and the crowds of people standing on the street corners waiting for the light to change so they could walk across; the tall buildings and the roaring buses that had a particular smell of their own. I liked the whistle of the policeman directing traffic and the clang of the bell-ringing Santa on the sidewalk (not the real Santa, I knew) who was trying to get people to drop money into his pot. Of course, it had to be cold weather (the colder the better) and not raining, or none of this would have held any appeal for me. Cold weather was absolutely essential to get the feel of Christmas.
I was six so I still firmly believed in the myth of Santa Claus. I also believed that if you weren’t able to talk to Santa and tell him what you wanted in the run-up to Christmas, you would be out of luck and would get nothing. No presents, no Santa, no nothing. I already knew the world was a hard place.
Mother had lived in the city before she was married so she knew her way around downtown. As she maneuvered the car through the traffic to get to where she wanted to park, I was still sleepy from the Dramamine I had been given before we left home but I didn’t feel like vomiting, so that was the important thing. She parked in a pay parking lot a few blocks from where we were going and we all got out of the car.
“They charge a dollar now for parking,” mother said. “I don’t know what the world is coming to. Just last year it was fifty cents.”
Grandma helped my sister and me on with our hats and gloves and we began the several-blocks walk down to the department store where Santa was.
This store was famous for its animated Christmas windows. We stopped to take a look at them but there were so many people crowded around that we couldn’t see them very well, so we went on inside the store. I was starting to feel little-kid anxiety about seeing Santa. I might freeze up when I sat on his lap and not be able to tell him what I wanted. I felt my throat constrict at the thought.
To get in to where Santa was, you had to walk through the “Winter Wonderland” that was supposed to be the North Pole. There was a wooden walkway to get through it and there were plenty of elves around to make sure nobody left the walkway and tried to walk on the fake snow, pull on the fake trees (trees at the North Pole?) or try to get a closer look at the reindeer. It was all very pretty, with Christmas music blasting over the sound system, but I couldn’t wait to get through it and in to see Santa.
After we passed through “Winter Wonderland,” There were ropes on poles to keep all the people in a neat line. It was about half adults and half kids. Some of the women held tiny babies or pushed them in strollers. You knew they were too young and would only waste Santa’s time. Most of the kids, you could tell, were trying to hold still and not squirm too much. A few of them looked as nervous as I felt.
In about fifteen minutes, we finally came to the place where we could see Santa on his throne. I breathed a sigh of relief when I was actually able to see him and know he was there. There were still about twenty more little kids in front of me, though, before it would be my turn.
Santa was flanked by yet more elves to keep the line moving and keep any one child from taking up too much of his time. Each child was placed on Santa’s lap, Santa leaned over to let the child speak into his ear for about twenty seconds and then the child was removed in an elfin movement of robotic efficiency.
My heart was beating too fast as I got nearer to Santa. I tried to keep in my mind what I was going to say, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to remember it. I knew my mother, sister and grandma were somewhere behind me, watching me, but I wasn’t thinking about them. I only wanted to get this over with.
Finally it was my turn. A burly elf with acne put his hands on either side of my rib cage and hoisted me up; I swung my legs over and found myself face to face with Santa. He smiled at me and I could see his thick lips through his whiskers. He breathed on the side of my head.
“What would you like for Santa to bring you?” he asked.
“Uh, I want a sled and a pair of cowboy boots and…”
“A Howdy-Doody puppet and a racing car set and some books and…”
“That’s all I can think of right now.”
“Have you been a good boy this year?” he asked.
He gave me a candy cane, and the same elf who had lifted me up then lifted me down. I realized then how silly all this was.
After my sister had her turn with Santa, I rejoined mother and grandma. “Did you tell him everything you wanted?” mother asked me.
“Everything I could think of,” I said.
“Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll get everything just because you told him you wanted it.”
“How does he remember what people tell him without writing it down?” I asked.
“I guess he has a photographic memory.”
“He’s really something, isn’t he?”
We had lunch on the mezzanine level where you could look down and see hundreds of people moving around like ants. There was nothing like that back home. Then after lunch it was on to the serious shopping.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp