“Hey, Liz! Santa’s coming over at 7:30! Wanna come?” The invitation pierced the soggy gloom. It was my neighbor, emerging from her car with both hands weighted with holiday bags stuffed with toys. Across the street white lights swathed an evergreen tree and outlined the roof of another bungalow. It felt like the whole world was holding its breath.

“Sloane and Clark can’t wait. There’ll be other kids, too,” she added, her boots squishing the bent grass as she approached me.

The little kid within, stirred: Memories of waiting in line for Santa, of Mother unbuttoning my snowsuit and removing the knit cap from my brown hair electrified by the dry air. The music and jingling bells, jumbled pieces of chatter, babies crying—all disconcerted me. I was leery. Only my hand in Mother’s could contain my flip-flop feelings. Each Christmas, we rode the trolley downtown to enjoy the animated windows encircling St. Louis’s Famous-Barr Department Store, then to visit Santa. I was always glad to return home.

I was next. Within moments, arms hoisted me upon Santa’s lap, his whiskers brushing my cheek. My words dried up.

Then it was over until the next Christmas, the box of paper dolls with blunt scissors under my arms.

It seems like the greatest gifts are sourced within terrifying moments as if to strip us of securities that stunt spiritual growth. That’s been my experience, gratitude only coming later, with new lessons learned.

 

 

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