I look at the picture of Daddy from 1964 when he was caught in the act of Christmas shopping by the photographer from our hometown paper. He must have been amused at my father managing his cigar above the Rose’s Dime Store box and shopping basket. When an acquaintance saw the picture and heard my story, he asked me to submit it as a Letter to Santa for his doll magazine. At fifty-six I wrote my letter.
Mine was more of a “Thank You” note sent on December 28th so I could tell the whole story. I would have been in fourth grade. I started out with acknowledging that I liked my new Barbie with the ponytail and my Barbie Dream House. I commented, “I’m so glad I finally have a real Barbie — since my parents gave me a fake one for my birthday.” That memory brought up how hard it was to be a child at Christmas once you knew about the real Santa. I wanted to be truly happy, not feel any disappointment because I didn’t want to hurt Mama and Daddy. I know now that when they gave me a fake Barbie it was either because they didn’t understand that it made any difference or they couldn’t afford the more expensive doll.
I remember we were excited that Daddy’s picture was on the Saturday Feature page the week of Christmas. When I’d looked at it more closely, I realized that Rose’s box had to be my Barbie Dream House. My younger sister, Peggy, who was five, nor my older sister, Harriet, who was twelve, had asked for anything that size. I was excited to know that it would definitely be there Christmas morning, but soon afterward, I was disappointed that my surprise had been spoiled. I knew that even though Daddy grinned for the photographer, he would have been mad underneath because he felt my surprise had been spoiled, too.
That wasn’t the only year I felt that tension– wanting to know versus wanting to be surprised. My older sister discovered that our parents hid things in one of our barns. When they were gone, she took me to see our stereo that was covered by a quilt. Next to it was an empty barrel with a box of Children’s Classics books that we received each year. It was fun for a while to have that discovery with my sister, to share a secret, but then there was the inevitable letdown Christmas morning when you knew part of your gifts.
At the end of my Santa letter, I addressed the issue of knowing ahead of time that I was getting the Barbie Dream House. I said, “But that’s okay, Santa, because I didn’t have to stay awake all night Christmas Eve and wonder if my Dream House would be under the tree. Instead, I could dream about playing with my Barbie in her perfectly pink bedroom and going back to Miss Harrington’s fourth grade and telling them all about it.”
As an adult writing the letter, I’d seen the benefit of reducing my childhood tension. While I loved the mystery of Christmas, there was anxiety with the unknown, and later with the known– the way you could disappoint your parents who’d worked so hard to give you their best. I guess that mix of excitement and anxiety was very real for me as I, along with my older sister, remember that the only time I ever had nosebleeds was on Christmas mornings!
Now, as a parent, I know that my parents would have understood those feelings I had back then. They would have realized that the Christmas season is filled with a range of emotions, and they would have seen that as just part of life.