Christmas 1942, by Dan Hogan

Dan Hogan

Fall had faded and December meant Christmas was near. The Christmas season was always a special time at our house and my mom and dad made sure we were the first ones in the neighborhood to put up our tree, which was always decorated with too many lights, which put a strain on the electrical circuits in our old rented house. Pop always had lots of fuses on hand through the Christmas season and we all tried our best to turn off any unnecessary lights before plugging in the tree lights. We’d forget and, oops, the house would go dark and Pop, flashlight in hand, would head to the basement to replace another blown fuse.

This Christmas was one I’d never forget. It all started when my Dad called me from his basement workshop. “Hey Danny, come on down here, I want to talk to you for a minute.” Geez… I hoped this wasn’t going to be about the birds and bees. Nope! That would come later.

“Look son, I know you don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore but your brothers still do, right?” I just nodded…yes. “This year your uncle Matt and I have something special planned and we need you to help us out.” Again I nodded and said, “Sure Pop… what’s up?” “Your uncle is gonna play Santa on Christmas Eve for you boys and I want you to go along with it. Can you do that?” Before I had a chance to answer, there was more. “When we finish here, Santa will be making a second stop to a family about a mile from here and we want you to go along with us and do a little play-acting to make it all seem as real as possible, you wanna do that?” I suddenly felt a bit more grown-up than I really was and blurted out a resounding, “Yes…yes!”

Pop then filled me in on the details. The father of this family worked at Uncle Matt’s plant as a janitor for very low pay and this Christmas was going to be a tough one for the youngsters. Pop continued, “Santa is going to bring a couple presents for the kids and we want you to give a turkey to the mom and dad for their Christmas dinner. What do ya think?” I don’t think I’d ever seen my dad so excited about anything before. My answer…I jumped into his arms and gave him a big hug followed with a soft, “I love you Pop.”

As Christmas drew closer, things got more and more exciting at our house and Uncle Matt was around more than usual as he and Pop planned Santa’s visit to the family on the edge of town. Since I was Santa’s helper this year I was included when my two younger brothers weren’t around. They had no idea what was going on. This year Santa would be paying a visit to 1915 Quincy Street in person. I couldn’t wait.

December 24th finally arrived and a fresh snowfall had started as twilight slowly faded to darkness. Mom had managed to get the tree lights on without blowing a fuse, which meant Pop needn’t make a trip to the circuit box in the basement tonight. Uncle Matt and Aunt Loretta had arrived and it seemed our house was bustling with activity a bit more than usual this year. My younger brothers, Stuart and Jerry, didn’t notice when Uncle Matt slipped away to put on his rented red suit and hat with the fake white beard… but I did. Mom gave me a wink and said, “Okay boys, time for bed. Santa’s on his way. Get up to bed now!” That was my cue and I led the way to our upstairs bedroom.

We had been in bed for only a short time when downstairs Santa arrived with some loud “Ho-Ho-Ho’s” and sounds of sleigh bells ringing. I made sure Stu and Jerry were awake and hearing Santa wishing everyone, “Merry Christmas!…Merry Christmas!”… over and over again. Uncle Matt sounded great. He must have practiced a lot as he didn’t sound at all like his normal voice. Aunt Lorretta called out, “Hey boys, get down here. Yer going to miss Santa.” This time Stu and Jerry beat me to the stairs and I happily followed.

I couldn’t believe that Santa was our uncle Matt. He really looked and sounded the part and I’m sure my brothers were totally convinced he was the real deal. Years later Jerry told me he believed in Santa Claus much longer than most kids his age did.

Santa gave us each a few unwrapped gifts to go along with the many that were already under the tree before he headed out to his imaginary sleigh and his next stop. This year it was Uncle Matt’s 1937 Chevy that was parked out front.

When I was sure my brothers were asleep I quietly dressed again and went back downstairs. Santa had one more stop to make this Christmas Eve and Pop and I were going with him. Matt’s Chevy was already loaded with Santa’s sack of gifts and I was in charge of the now ready to cook turkey in the very bottom of the sack.

Off we went, Pop sitting in the right front seat with me and a sack of toys in the back seat being driven by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. It was still snowing as we parked and walked up to the front door. Santa knocked twice and just walked in, followed by me and Pop. There was a fire burning in the fireplace that was probably the only heat for the whole house. A small fir tree decorated with a few ornaments, but no lights, stood on a small end table in the corner. I couldn’t help noticing that there were only two small gifts under the tree.

Two very excited youngsters were overjoyed and were jumping up and down as Santa asked their names as he reached in his big red bag and handed them two gifts each. Then…Santa turned to me and said, “Danny, I believe you also have something for this young family.” I was supposed to say, as I handed the turkey to the mother, “From our family to your family…Merry Christmas.” Instead, I just froze as I extended the turkey in both hands and just said…“Here!” Followed by a very soft, “Merry Christmas.” Oh well. I got part of it right.

The young mother smiled while holding the turkey in one hand and gave me a warm hug with the other and softly said, “Thank you Danny. Merry Christmas to you too.”

The father hadn’t said a word but was clearly moved by this unexpected Christmas Eve visit from Santa and his helpers. Who was this person wearing the red suit and the fake beard – someone he knew? How did Santa know where his family lived? He just couldn’t figure it out. And the best part…He never did!

Pop and I took our cues from Santa, who picked up his sack and headed for the door, proclaiming he had many more homes to visit this Christmas Eve.

Once back home, Mom and Aunt Lorretta couldn’t wait to hear how Santa’s visit had gone, as they rattled off questions one after another, which Pop and Matt answered in glowing detail. Finally, I headed back upstairs to bed for a second time. This time…for good. It had been quite a Christmas Eve. One I’d never forget. Do I believe in Santa Claus? How could I not? This year I’d been one of his helpers.