I was perhaps four years old. Surely too young to have this memory of walking from store to store in downtown Lubbock, Texas, on a cold and blustery December day. My hands can still recall the feeling of being snuggled into a white, fake fur muff. Someone, probably my Grandaddy, thought I was special enough to have this beautiful hand warmer. It was a wondrous thing. As soft on the inside as on the outside. I wish I still had it. Of course at my age I’d only be able to fit one hand inside the one I had back then.
(Above, a muff similar to the one I once owned.)
At any rate I recall the vibrancy of this particular day: Happy shoppers clogging the sidewalks in the midst of tall buildings, Christmas music emanating from every store, stopping for hot chocolate with my mommy at a drugstore, and all of a sudden wondering why there were Santas everywhere. How could this be? I was four, but even I knew there was just one Santa Claus. I’d sat in Santa’s lap inside one department store, so how could I be seeing him again in the store next door? I was no mathematical prodigy, but dang, it was pretty obvious that something fishy was going on.
“Mommy?” I asked. “How did Santa get from Hemphill-Wells to Montgomery Ward so fast?”
“He’s magic,” Mom said.
I thought a bit and reckoned that must be so, especially since Santa had a history of popping down chimneys with a sack full of toys he’d carried around with him in a flying sleigh pulled by eight miniature reindeer. Still, by the time we reached the end of one block I’d counted at least five Santas. And, none of them looked the same. A couple of them were skinny and one had an obviously fake beard. I could see the elastic he used to keep it in place.
So, I broached the subject again. “Mommy, why are all the Santas different?”
“Well, you see, Santa has to have helpers. He’s up at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas.”
“So none of these Santas are real?”
“I think maybe Santa does stop by some stores, just to make sure his helpers are doing a good job.”
From then until I learned the truth about Santa Claus I became fairly obsessed with discerning whether the Santa I visited with at Christmas time was indeed the real deal or just a hired hand. It became my quest to find THE Santa. A couple of times I was fairly certain I’d found the one.
After every visit with a department store Santa my brothers and I would debate that one’s credentials. Of course the boys looked to me for wisdom, (I’m pretty sure that’s still the case, they just won’t admit it) so I’d say, “That seemed like the real Santa! Did you see his twinkling eyes?” or “That one was just a helper, I think. I could see his real hair under his hat.” I don’t remember there being much debate; although, my brothers might have different memories.
Wouldn’t it be lovely for just one week to experience the wonder of Santa as a child? Not through the eyes of a child but as one? The wonder and magic, the anticipation! Ah! I wonder if anyone would hire me as a Santa detector? I think I have a knack for it.
(Below is a photo of the old Hemphill Wells store in downtown Lubbock.)