Of the many memories I have of Christmas on the farm, I don’t have a single memory of ever telling Santa what I wanted for Christmas.
I do remember being told innumerable times that I had better be good or Santa wouldn’t bring me what I wanted. How could he, was my sassy reply, when I hadn’t told him what I wanted.
A black-and-white photograph does exist of my two older brothers, sister and me with some department store Santa in, maybe, 1960. Could I have slipped the fat man a slim list that day?
I doubt it because the picture shows his tired, bored eyes staring blankly into the camera while we are staring to the right. Eyes don’t lie: the disconnect between that St. Louis Santa and we Illinois farm kids couldn’t be more obvious.
I do have a clear memory of Santa bringing me a battery-powered, toy electric razor one year. The proof is another photo that shows me holding the razor while sporting a smile brighter than the tinsel-draped cedar tree behind me.
That razor was way cool, but I didn’t ask Santa for it.
A couple of Christmases later my two older brothers received BB guns, the top of every boy’s Christmas pyramid. Had they asked Santa for them? They must have because I had not asked Santa for one and I didn’t get one.
Anyone with a thinner skull might have picked up on that ask-Santa thing that year. Not me. Like some budding journalist, I needed confirmation.
Finally, in 1964 or so, I learned the full Santa truth. I remember it like yesterday.
That Christmas Eve we were at Grandma’s. We kids were eying the beautifully wrapped gifts under her tree while the adults were eating pickled herring and raw oysters, Grandpa’s Christmas gift to all, in the kitchen. (How, ah, kind.)
As I tunnelled through the tottering heap, I uncovered an enormous box that was ticketed for my older brother, David. Wow, David had hit the Grandma jackpot, the Grandmother Mother Lode.
David, I said in hushed awe, look.
He glanced at the huge package.
“Yeah, I saw that.”
No, I insisted, this could be the Big One, the…
The adults appeared before I could finish, and the great gift giveaway began. I quickly snatched the bed-sized package and handed it to David with a plea to open it. Before he had it half unwrapped I saw what it was.
Oh. My. Goodness. An electric slot car racetrack set.
I fell to my knees in complete disbelief. Looking at that box was like looking at the sun: blinding, spectacular, incomprehensible.
I can’t believe it, I finally stammered.
“Believe it,” David replied coolly. “I knew I was getting it.”
“Yeah, I knew because I asked for it.”
You asked Santa for it?
“No, goofball; Grandma. She asked me what I wanted Santa to bring and I told her.”
You told her you wanted Santa to bring you a slot car racetrack?
“Yeah, that’s the way it works,” he said.
I looked at the gift, then David — the owner of both a BB gun and a slot car race set — then at Grandma.
The scales finally fell from my eyes: Santa was real and his pipeline was a little, grey-haired lady in southern Illinois named Grandma. I became a believer then and there.
This year, for example, I asked for the annual bottle of single malt medicine from Scotland’s Isle of Skye and ratcheting wrenches — SAE and metric, please — from some mechanic named Sears Roebuck. Santa’s helper filled the order Saturday.
All I have to do now is be good until Christmas.
Alan Guebert is an Illinois-based agricultural commentator.