I first laid eyes on my hard plastic beauty when the family was visiting Cleveland's own version of Toys R Us. Ours was a giant toy extravaganza called "Children's Palace." They had one of these aqua blue musical dreams on display there, along with the "easy to use" music book. After only a few clumsily executed choruses of "I Love You Truly," I was hooked and knew it was EXACTLY what I wanted for Christmas.
When my mother inquired about my holiday toy of choice a few days later, I replied without hesitation. "I want an aqua blue plastic table organ." I watched as she nervously chewed on the inside of her lip. Then she said, "Honey, I think that's a little too expensive a gift to be asking for this year." I consoled my poor, obviously clueless Mother by patting her on the hand and saying, "Don't worry, Mom. I asked SANTA for the organ. HE'LL bring it for me. You don't have to worry about a thing!" Funny, my reassuring words didn't seem to comfort her much. But guess what? There on Christmas morning, under the shade of our hideous fake tree, sat my aqua blue jewel. Thanks, Santa!!
Then there was the year I reached into my stocking Christmas morning and found a deck of beautiful ballerina playing cards. There, on the cellophane wrapper, was the distinct paper residue of a price tag! I was onto my mother! I sauntered into the kitchen in all my "Smarty Pants" glory. I found my mother hunched over the sink, peeling potatoes for Christmas dinner. "Mom," I said with a wink, "YOU got me the ballerina cards, didn't you? Santa didn't bring them, you BOUGHT them for me, right?" She paused in mid-peel, turned to her middle child, blew her bangs off her face, smiled and confessed, "Yes, Joan, you got me. I DID buy the ballerina cards. I didn't want Santa to have all the fun!" Did my mom ROCK, or what?
But then came that Christmas Eve a few years later. It was very late, long after the annual Donnelly extended family gathering had ended. Mass had been attended, ham and nut roll had been consumed, and we kids were all back home securely tucked in our beds, anxious for morning. But I couldn't sleep. Too excited. I knew my younger sister Jennifer was out like a light, I could hear her rhythmic breathing coming from the top bunk. I was panicked. I KNEW that if I wasn't sleeping, Santa wouldn't stop by our house, and the mere THOUGHT of ruining Christmas not only for me, but for my siblings, was maddening. The more tense I grew from ruminating over my insomnia, the more fleeting was my slumber. That's when I saw them.
To this day, I'll never understand why my parents never thought to close our bedroom door, but they left it wide open. First I saw my father set-up, then climb a ladder to remove the large square in the ceiling that closed-off our attic. Then, in confused horror, I watched as my Dad passed present after present to my mom, who was waiting at the ladder's base. All Santa's presents. All of them, stored in our attic.
Then, it hit me. Like an accident victim who's life flashes before him at the point of sudden impact, my "Santa memories" paraded across my brain in rapid succession: That guy in the white, fake beard sitting on the red throne at the mall--FAKE (I should've guessed when I saw the thick, black-rimmed, Buddy Holly glasses he wore with his red suit! How could I have been so naive?). The North Pole had no workshop. Elves didn't make dolls. There were no elves. My ballerina cards, pool-hued organ, Tubsy...ALL of them, not from Santa. Just my parents, Jack and Sandy, Children's Palace shoppers.
But I must tell you, even at that age, when you could have sliced my soul-crushing disappointment with a knife, another thought surfaced in my young brain. That expensive, ugly organ, my scores of cherished dolls in every shape and size, these were all provided by these two hard working people who loved me fiercely. These two people loved me enough to let some fat, jolly, white-bearded elf take credit for all the sacrificing they'd done to afford these treasures for me. I gotta tell you, as crushed as I felt, I was also deeply humbled.
Santa may have been merely a myth, but that night I learned that my parents were the real Christmas deal. Jack and Sandy Donnelly didn't ride in a sleigh or employ magic reindeer and tiny elves, that's for certain. And their "door-closing forethoughtfulness" was obviously greatly lacking. But together that night, they gave me my first lesson on the true spirit of the season: when you give with a joyful and selfless heart, heaven and nature sing and all is merry and bright!
Thanks for reading!!