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A sneak preview at Christmas time

By Alma Barkman


Go up and spy (Joshua 7:2)

Try as I might, I could no longer believe in Santa Claus. I tried to, I really did, if only for the sake of my parents, but the facts eventually spoke for themselves.

Take my mother’s claim that Santa had caught his beard in our storm door, for instance. My secret inspection revealed that the white whiskers he left behind bore striking resemblance to the stuffing that fell out of an old armchair.

Footprints Santa supposedly left in the newly fallen snow bore the exact same tread pattern as Dad’s winter boots.

The cookies and milk I left out for the jolly fat soul were inadvertently gobbled up by my older brother. He admitted as much when he thought I wasn’t listening.
And so rather early on in life I had gathered up undeniable proof that Santa was a lovable, but mythical figure. While the adults were gullible enough to believe that reindeer flew and a fat man squeezed down skinny chimneys, I knew better.

The real puzzle lay in trying to figure out where those very same adults hid my presents every year.

A rectangular metal trunk salvaged from a vintage car sat in my parents’ bedroom, and for the most part solicited no unusual attention. But from November on, I kept that trunk under constant surveillance, convinced that my Christmas presents must surely be tucked away somewhere within its mysterious depths.

I’d wait until my mother went out to do chores and then sneak in and unclasp the chrome buckle latches on the metal trunk. The lid creaked as I opened it, and more than once I was nearly overcome by mothball fumes, but I persisted in my stealthy practice.

It finally paid off.

Feeling around between the layers of blankets and framed photographs one December day, I stumbled across the most gorgeous doll I had ever seen. Well, to be honest, I had seen her before. She was on display at the village store, but I knew she could never be mine, not even when the storekeeper took my mother aside for what he thought was confidential talk about swapping merchandise for eggs. Even a kid my age could have told him that hens didn’t lay that many eggs in winter, and certainly not between now and Christmas.

The doll had disappeared from the shelf shortly thereafter, and once in awhile I wondered who the lucky girl would be.

And now that very doll was here in the trunk. She was big, as big as a newborn baby, with dimpled fingers and chubby arms. At the moment her eyes were closed in sleep, but I remembered how her bright blue eyes with their long lashes used to look down at me in the village store. She was dressed in a pink coat and bonnet, with a frilly dress underneath, and she wore white shoes and socks. One lingering look and I quickly closed the lid of the trunk.

As I tossed and turned in bed that night, things suddenly began to fall into place. The shortage of eggs for breakfast, my mother frequently walking to town — why, of course! She was swapping eggs in exchange for the doll, a “buy now, lay later” deal.

I could hardly bear to think about it, an honest, hardworking mother sacrificing precious time and money for an underhanded traitor who didn’t deserve to be called her daughter.

Have you any idea how hard it is for a six-year-old girl to contain her guilt? I feigned innocence for two long, long weeks, taking advantage of opportune times to wonder aloud what I would be getting for Christmas, all the while yearning for just one more peek into the trunk. I probably exercised more self-discipline in those two weeks than in all my ensuing years.

On Christmas morning, the doll was waiting for me under the tree. I did my best to act surprised as my mother watched me intently, drinking in my delight, soaking up her humble share of satisfaction.

She didn’t know it, but I cried when she went to gather the eggs that morning, great hot tears of shame or gratitude, I know not which.

It’s been a long time, but forgive me, Mom. Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all (Prv 31:29).

Barkman is a freelance writer from Winnipeg (