One year in the late 1950s, I decided that I was a big boy, and would dispense with my childish belief in Santa Claus. I had overheard enough hints that the Santa 'stuff' was a big hoax. It had been such a delicious belief that he existed only to bring joy to boys and girls on Christmas Eve. But for one last Christmas, I suspended disbelief, and was convinced that my earlier convictions were indeed true.
It all began around six o'clock on Christmas Eve. My older brother, Cec, had recently graduated from high school, and was enjoying his first job. He drove a van for Newfoundland Brewery. Despite the fact that he was far too young for such a job, this bothered no one. He delivered beer to local clubs, corner stores and homes. Picture it - a 17-year old with a van full of beer.
On Christmas Eve, Cec was making his final delivery on Junction Road. As he was getting into the van, he saw the face of an old man staring into the passenger window. He had a white fluffy beard and a bag draped over his shoulder. At this time of the evening there were few people out and about. Cec went around to the other side of the van.
"Young man, you wouldn't know where an old man might stay for a few days, would you?"
Of course, Cec was well-beyond believing in Santa Claus. But that was the very thought that passed through his mind. Santa Claus!! And he's putting me to a test. He shook his head to banish the thought, and realized his childish first impression. It took him but a moment to consider. Our grandparents often took in boarders. But usually these fellows would be gone home for Christmas.
"Yes, jump into the van. I think I might have just the place for you." Never thinking that Christmas was a reprieve for Mom Q, as we called our grandmother, from cooking and cleaning for the boarders. We had always called our grandparents 'Mom Q and Pop Q', short for 'McHugh'.
Mom Q was reluctant to admit a stranger on Christmas Eve. But Pop Q intervened and welcomed the man into the kitchen. Of course, Pop had to do none of the work associated with putting up the boarders. He just enjoyed having a yarn, finding out where someone hailed from, and who they belonged to.
Glad to have the man settled, Cec came home to our house. We heard him tell Mother about 'Santa Claus', who was staying at Mom Q's house. We gathered round to hear the details. No one was more eager to hear this than I. Oh boy, Santa is really here in Grand Falls! All my earlier misgivings evaporated.
"Did he have his red suit on?"
"I didn't see it. Maybe it was in his bag. I don't think he wears it daytimes. Only on Christmas Eve."
"Oh Mother, we got to go over to Mom Q's house."
"No, no, it's too late now. He'll be too busy getting ready. We'll see him tomorrow."
I didn't get much sleep that Christmas Eve. Us kids were up pretty early on Christmas morning. After the excitement of opening our presents, we wanted to rush down to Mom and Pop's house. But Mother managed to hold us until noon, for our traditional Christmas dinner there.
And there, in our grandparents kitchen, stretched out on the daybed, talking to Pop Q was Santa!!! Fat belly, snowy white beard, and a thin shock of hair on his head. The only thing missing was the red suit. We were already prepared for the idea that he only wore it on Christmas Eve.
I thought, how lucky were we to have Santa Claus at our grandparents' house. We asked a few tentative questions. He played along with the role, and entertained our queries. Pop Q soon let us know that we'd bothered Santa enough, and shooed us off.
During Christmas dinner I peeked over in Santa's direction as often as I dared. He was deep in conversation with Pop. I decided that they were old friends. Wow, I couldn't believe it.
Over the next few days I made up excuses to go over to our grandparents' house to see him. But one day he was gone. No one ever said who he really was, or where he had come from.
I don't ever remember telling my friends about our very own Santa. Surely they would have made terrible fun of me. I just wanted Santa for myself. I believe I really knew he wasn't the 'real' Santa. I just didn't want to burst the illusion.
Today, Cec I sometimes reminisce about that Christmas long ago, and about our Santa. We decided that he came to us that Christmas as a special present. I wonder about him and what became of him. I hope he enjoyed that Christmas with our family. We sure did.