FIRST-PERSON: A coming-of-age Christmas
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--"Daddy, did you mail my letter to Santa?" It may have sounded like an innocent question, but in 1974, I was a curious 8-year-old, and I have to admit that it was a set-up.
The day before, rumors had been floating around my third grade classroom that Santa Claus was a fake, nothing more than a fairy tale. With Christmas approaching, the class was split down the middle between sophisticates who were too grown up to believe such nonsense and truth seekers, such as myself, who found the story so irresistible that we weren't going to let it go without a fight. Of course, at this age, I was beginning to have some questions. But it was so hard to let go of the magic tied to believing! If there were one shred of truth to the fantastic story of Santa Claus, I would hold on to it. The truth, however, seemed difficult to obtain.
"I asked my mother," my friend Lorin said, twirling a long blond strand of hair around her finger. "She just said, 'If you believe in him, he's real.' But that's not an answer! I wish she would just say yes or no."
Lorin's comment gave me an idea. My daddy wouldn't have to tell me yes or no. There was another way I could find out.
That afternoon I composed a letter to Santa, listing the toys I wanted and promising that I had been good all year. Sealing it, I addressed it to the North Pole. Then I placed it carefully on top of the stack of bills and other correspondence that Daddy would be mailing the next day.
The following evening, my family went out to do some Christmas shopping. I held Daddy's hand as we rode down the escalator of the large Sears & Roebuck department store in downtown Nashville, Tenn. Every December, the store turned its basement into a huge toy land, filled with every doll, game and plaything imaginable. Twinkling lights and gleaming Christmas trees transformed the concrete basement walls with a soft glow. In the center of the store, a kiosk stood offering fresh candy and hot popcorn for sale by the bag.
On a quiet aisle lined with stuffed animals, I cornered my daddy and asked him the question, "Daddy, did you mail my letter to Santa?" Breathlessly, I waited for his answer. If there really were a Santa, he would have mailed my letter. If there wasn't, then he would not have mailed it, and he would not lie about it. I knew he would not lie. He had never lied to me about anything.
"I took care of it," he answered.
My heart sank. He had answered my question. I knew he had not mailed my letter although he, like Lorin's mom, didn't answer yes or no. He didn't have to. My plan had worked. As tears came to my eyes, I pressed on for the details.
"Daddy, did you mail my letter to Santa?"
"Honey," he smiled gently, "I told you, I took care of it."
"Daddy," my voice began to rise as my tears flowed freely, "did you take my letter to the post office and put a stamp on it and mail it to Santa Claus?" I knew. And he knew that I knew.
"Becky," his six-foot-four-inch frame knelt down beside me, "your letter got to him, honey." The eyes behind his black-rimmed glasses looked concerned. He placed his hands on my shoulders.
Sobbing quietly, I said, "There's no Santa Claus, is there? The gifts have always been from you and Mom."
"Yes," he replied quietly. "You understand now." He patted me tenderly, reaching in his pocket for a handkerchief.
I cried a few more minutes, then reaching again for Daddy's large hand, held on a little more tightly. That evening, I lost the fantasy, but I gained a far greater reality in confirming that there was a person in my life who would always be honest with me. That's what Christmas is all about -- understanding that the real gifts come from a faithful Father who can always be trusted with the truth.
Rebecca Ingram Powell is the loving daughter of Rev. Ted J. Ingram. An author and speaker, she lives near Nashville with her husband Rich and their three children. You can contact her through her website: www.rebeccapowell.com.