As this Christmas holiday approaches, I’m reminded of a part of my life that took place many years ago. It was the winter of 1960 and being a boy of no more than four years old I had an adventure for sure.
Our home in Clinton County had recently burned down and our family had temporarily moved to Russell County. We were living in a small rented farm house near my maternal grandparents as my father began building our new home in Aaron, a community in which I still reside.
This in itself was an adventure for a young child but this is just the beginning. For it was here that I would have my first encounter with Santa Claus!
On a cold winter morning just a few days before Christmas, my mother woke me to inform me that today I was going to school with my older brother Roger. He had started school at Manntown, a one room school house with a kind and friendly teacher, Miss Foley (her one claim to fame was that she was supposed to be the cousin of the country singer Red Foley). The one room school house consisted of a pot bellied coal burning stove, a water bucket with dipper and a mismatched assortment of desks occupied by no more than a dozen students grades 1-8. Not much by today’s standards, but to me this was grand.
Since we had moved to Russell County my interaction with other children had been limited and this was my opportunity to be one of the “big” kids. Since I was only four years old, I looked up to my big brother Roger. Although he was only eight, in my mind he was the smartest and most popular person in the world behind my grandmother “Mom” as we called her and my Mama. When you’re four, being eight was like being an adult, so in my eyes Roger knew almost everything. (Like the time he told me that the pylons at Wolf Creek Dam were actually robots put there by the government to be activated in case of an attack, which made me feel really secure). Anyway, back to my big day.
That morning Mama and Mom Hadley both took part in getting me ready for my big day at school. In recollection, I am reminded of the scene from the movie “A Christmas Story,” in which the mother readies her son Randy for school. They put me in a little set of long johns with two pairs of socks on my feet before my boots went on. Multiple layers of clothing ended with a hooked coat with fur around the face that was secured only after Mom Hadley had put an old pair of ear muffs over my ears. I can still hear her voice saying, “KEEP THEM EARS COVERED, THAT’S WHAT GIVES YOU KIDS THE EAR ACHE!”
After all the preparation and with limited hearing, I was finally off on my adventure. With my hand in Roger’s, we walked the half mile or so to the old school which sat next to the Manntown Methodist Church.
When we arrived at the school and the bell rang (an old brass bell rang by the hand of one of the students whose turn it was to be bell ringer, an honor to be sure!). I hurried inside so excited at being a big kid now at school. The teacher was very good to me as I recall, giving me important school work to do with crayons and coloring books. I was sitting in my little chair next to Roger feeling so grown up and important when all of a sudden the door opened and in came Santa Claus. He was laughing, waving and saying Merry Christmas to everyone. When I saw him I was a little afraid. Dad had always said Santa knew if you were naughty or nice and I thought I might not have been nice enough. Santa looked directly at me, came over, picked me up and said, “What do you want for Christmas little boy?” I started screaming and crying “Help me Roger!” I was terrified. I don’t remember much after that except we all got little gifts, mostly fruit and candy.
Now forward in time to Christmas 2011. My mother, Rema, now 81, resides in a nursing home stricken with Alzheimer’s. Although the disease has taken many things from her, she still retains the memories of her family, the joy of Christmas, and would look forward to a visit from Santa Claus. For this reason, I was happy to accept a request to play Santa at the facility’s annual Christmas party. I’m sure the reasoning behind the staff’s request was my likeness to Santa in build, I hated to admit.
When the day arrived I began putting on my suit. As I was donning my hat and beard in the mirror I saw that familiar face from so long ago. It was Santa with my Mama’s eyes. I heard a voice of long ago speaking from the back of that little one room school house, “That ain’t Santa Claus! That’s just Rema dressed up like Santa Claus!”
I thought how we had gone full circle, Mama and me. For you see, now she was that little kid so excited about Santa and Christmas and I was that parent so much looking forward to having such a wonderful part to play in my child’s life!
Mama passed away in April 2012. My Mama wasn’t the perfect mother nor I the perfect son, but as our roles reversed and I became the parent and she became the child…I was as good a father as I could be to her and she was a great daughter to me!
Merry Christmas, Mama, I miss you!