Santa's Secret

Karen Cacciolfi Shiver

© Copyright 2003 by Karen Cassiolfi Shiver


Drawing of a pyramid with a treasure inside.
As a child did you ever wonder what Santa Claus was really like? I know I did. Every Christmas Eve, I would lie very still in the darkness and listen very carefully for the sound of hoof prints upon the roof. Of course, no matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I would always fall asleep before Santa arrived.

 During the entire Christmas vacation my brother and I would confront our mother with many, many questions. Where did Santa come from? When was his birthday? How old was he? How did he know what to bring everyone? Did he know where we lived? And, of course, our mother would smile and tell us that Santa's elves were in the house, listening, and that we better not ask questions.

 Occasionally, when we were especially doubtful, our mother would point to the kitchen counter and say, "See! Did you see that one?" Of course, the elves would always disappear before my bother and I could turn around. But, sometimes, when the Christmas magic was especially strong in our hearts, we could almost see a tiny, faint spark of light, and for a very brief instant, we believed her.

 Although Christmas was a very special time for our family, it did not go without its heartaches. Having a father who was a police officer meant sacrifices and Christmas Eve was no exception.

 While my father was out catching the "bad guys," my mother would tantalize our senses with the mingled aromas of pies baking, candied yams stewing, hot buttered biscuits steaming and succulent baked apples summoning our watering mouths to bite into their cinnamon sweetness.

 As we waited for our father's return, my brother and I would snuggle close together by the fire and watch the snowflakes leave their tiny, fragile imprints upon our windowpane. Secured by the warmth of the fire and the delightful aromas coming from the kitchen, we would soon fall asleep.

 Because my father worked the swing shift, he would always come home after midnight. We would awake to watch him through the frosted windows as he carefully lifted our Christmas tree out of the trunk and dragged it through the snow towards the house. My mother would always have a cup of hot chocolate waiting for him at the door.

 While listening to the Nutcracker Ballet on the phonograph, my brother and I would hang grandmother's antique ornaments on the branches. Made of delicate, hand-blown glass, they were a delightful kaleidoscope of glistening, glowing colors and wonderfully odd shapes. Each ornament represented a thousand moments of memories in our grandmother's life.

 The water globes were always my favorite. Enclosed in glass bubbles, the tiny, self-contained worlds seemed oddly protected from the harsh realities of my father's outer world. Only simple pleasures were allowed to exist within their imaginary walls. Although our father tried to keep us in our own glass bubble, we never felt safe. We always feared, in the deepest reaches of our hearts, that our water globe would someday shatter.

 In a strange, hopeless kind of way, the water globes represented a world I could control. Protected by their tiny glass barriers, the worlds inside were kept intact: free from the pestilence in my father's world. Peaceful and serene, safe and secured, I longed to be within their glass walls.

 After all the ornaments were hung, we would gather around the Christmas tree and watch the tiny, white lights winding their way around the branches like a twinkling staircase to heaven.

 After finishing our hot chocolate, our father would carry us on piggy back while reciting the poem, "Twas The Night Before Christmas." Like hot potatoes, we would fall off his back onto the bed, laughing and giggling. After tucking us in, he would kiss us good night and whisper sweet thoughts of Christmas into our ears.

 And then our fairy tale ended when a twist of fate shattered our crystal water glove forever. Shortly after Christmas, our father was struck by an automobile while in the line of duty. I will never forget the horrifying moment when a fellow police officer told our mother that his friend, our father, lay in critical condition at a nearby hospital and was not expected to survive through the night.

 I will always remember the feel of my mother's tears upon my arms as she desperately tried to convince my brother and me that our father was not going to die. I must have prayed a thousand prayers and made a thousand promises to God that night if only He would allow my father to live.

 As the long winter night finally came to a close, and the newly fallen snow had just begun to melt under the new day's sun, my father regained consciousness and spoke his first words since the accident. God had given our father back to us.

 As the months following the accident unfolded, my father's shattered mass of flesh and bones slowly healed. And after many months of being confined to a hospital bed, the Lord allowed him to be with us the following Christmas.

 Even though our prayers had been answered the day he came home from the hospital, my father still had to face the possibility of an early retirement.

 With a multitude of fractures in his right arm, he was forced to write with his left hand, resulting in a severe impairment of his penmanship.

 As a child who was easily amused with anything out of the ordinary, I especially took notice of his handicap. With pencil and paper in hand, I would climb upon his lap and beg him to write my name over and over again. With a squibble here and a squiggle there, we would pass away the hours together. It was during this time that I became aware of my father's vulnerability. For the first time in my life I realized that he wasn't a superhero. He was just human and I needed him and he needed me.

Because of his disability, my father didn't have to work on Christmas Eve that year. We decorated the tree early in the afternoon and visited relatives in the evening. With my father home and in need of my mother's attention, she didn't have as much time to bake.

 We went to bed immediately following the radio broadcast that Santa had been spotted overhead.

 In their meritorious effort to keep the magic essence of Christmas dancing within our hearts, our parents would always surprise is on Christmas morning with a few extra gifts they had tucked away in their bedroom closet. We would secretly watch our mother through the keyhole as she gingerly tiptoed past our bedroom door carrying the "hidden" gifts.

 However, on that particular Christmas Eve, our mother did something she had never done before. Slightly flushed and breathless from running back into our room, she made a startling announcement that Santa Claus had just arrived!

 With a twinkle in her eyes, she coyly hinted that if we hurried, we still might be able to catch a glimpse of him climbing back up our chimney.

 Not knowing whether or not to believe her, and with curiosity nipping hard at our heels, we hurried to the living room. Of course, to our disillusionment, Santa and his reindeer were long gone by the time we reached the fireplace.

 If it were not for the presents he had left for us under the tree, my brother and I might have thought that Santa didn't really exist. Although there weren't as many gifts that year, they were beautifully wrapped and glistened like flawless jewels beneath the twinkling branches.

 Breaking away from family tradition, our mother allowed my brother and me to open one gift each from Santa.

 As she watched us with a child-like innocence, I realized how adversely she had been affected by my father's accident. The past year had left her feeling alone and vulnerable. Almost losing my father had made her fragile. She reminded me of a palm tree bent backward by the force of hurricane winds. Still standing, still surviving, but bent out of shape by a cruel twist of fate.

 In a sad sort of way, I think she needed to believe in the magic of Christmas more than we did. As I eagerly reached for the present in my mother's outstretched hands, she smiled warmly. Perhaps she needed to see us smile just as much as we needed to smile.

 Bubbling over with Christmas excitement, I ripped through the golden wrapping which concealed my gift.

 I stopped abruptly after noticing a name tag dangling loosely from the edge of the torn wrapping paper. My heart skipped a beat upon reading the signature on the card.

 Throughout the past year I had seen the odd handwriting over and over again. I knew my father's squibbles and squiggles well. Despite the fact that the tag was signed with Santa's name, I knew that the crooked, twisted and squiggly script, which had become my father's calling card during the past year, could only belong to him. Of course, as a child, I believed in Santa Claus with all of my heart. Up until then, I had no reason to doubt St. Nick's existence. With tears welling up in my eyes, I turned to my beloved father for an explanation.

 He hesitated, a solemn look forming on his face, then cooly glanced into my trusting expression, and with a slight smile and without blinking an eyelash, quietly explained in his most sympathetic voice that Santa Claus had also suffered the misfortune of a broken arm. I remember staring at my father for a long, long time that night. Somehow, I knew, in the deepest reaches of my heart, that he was not telling me the truth. The handwriting was unmistakable! With both of my parent's eyes upon me, and in a noble effort not to give away their secret to my brother, I finished opening my present.

 Just as I had wished for, a beautiful porcelain doll dressed in pink silk with golden mohair curls, laid inside the velvet-lined box. And reflected within her glistening, crystal blue eyes was my father's love.

 As I lay in the quiet stillness of my room that night, I finally came to the realization that I had not lost Santa Claus. He had been here all along. Although he did exist, his description was hardly limited to the stereotypic image of a jolly, plump old man with the long, fluffy white beard and rosy-red cherry apple cheeks that everyone believed and fantasized him to be. Instead, he had many different descriptions.

 This time, Santa had been cleverly disguised as my kind, loving father, who with his broken arm, had attempted to keep the spirit of Christmas alive by writing in his almost illegible scribbles, "To Karen, Love Santa."

 Santa wasn't out there. Santa was inside of me! He was in my heart, and in my father's heart, and in the heart of any parent who has ever loved a child.

 My father, in all of his love for me, despite his broken arm, had tried to protect this very special, very giving kind of love. Although the past year had taken its toll on our family, it had also taught us how fragile life can be. We grew to appreciate one another. We learned to savor each moment as if it were our last.

 And even if our crystal water globe would never hold its shape again, we would not allow ourselves to crumble too. Though its glass had been permanently shattered, the magic within the glass would remain in our hearts forever.

 As I started to doze on that sparkling, twinkling, Christmas night, I thought I imagined hearing hoof prints upon our roof. No, it couldn't be! My father was in the next room sleeping. Or could it be? After all, the Christmas magic was especially strong in my heart that night.

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