December 24, 2012
Santa Wears Polyester
Editor's Note: Thanks everyone for joining us on the Holiday Blog Tour this year! Lost of great reads.
For my stop, I decided to write about a memory. I've been feeling a bit bah humbug lately and decided to remember one of my Christmases. I apologize for the tardiness. Hope you enjoy!
Back when my sister and I were growing up in that magical place called East Harris County, Texas, back when my neighborhood was an honest-to-goodness suburban area, my sister and I learned that Santa Claus wore orange slacks.
They were made out of polyester and their exact color was red-orange. I learned that when I looked into my 24 count crayon box one day and recognized the color. Red-orange. Not red or orange but both, as if Santa couldn't decide between the two or perhaps he was colorblind.
It was a special treat to see Santa since the other kids at my school were usually asleep and weren't allowed to see him, but Leslie and I were good girls all year, if you didn't count the times we screamed at each other or I told on her when she was doing something bad. If you didn't count the times I locked my bedroom door so I didn't have to play with her, my sister and I were the perfect siblings.
One Christmas Eve, Mami y Papi were dancing to salsa music and my sister and I eyed the clock. our family tradition was like everyone else's in school. While they had to sleep and wait until Christmas morning to open gifts, we stayed up until midnight. It was stuff like that that made me realize we weren't normal among the manicured lawns and perfect houses. Our parents didn't leave to go to work in the morning. Well, Mami did. She worked at college and she would bring us back some great stuff like binders and big rolls of paper to draw on with our crayons. I didn't know what she did, but I knew she would come home late and that she was always tired.
Papi stayed with us and worked from home. He helped heal people who were stick with herbs and prayer. Sometimes, I would act as his secretary and sit with them as they waited to see him. I would help schedule their next appointments. For this, my first job, I earned nothing but hugs from Papi.
Like I said, we weren't normal. Besides their jobs, they liked each other enough to stay married. While my friends were spending weekends with one parent or the other, we spent the weekend with both of them. Sometimes, we would go to the mall together and Papi would buy us things, not big things, but something small. Other times we would go to Kemah to fish. And on very special occasions, we would go to Papa's Seafood to eat baked potatoes stuffed with lobster.
But lately, we stayed home every weekend. Sometimes, Papi would hand me $20 to order a pizza. Then Mami was in the hospital and when she came home, she walked with crutches for weeks and had to go to the doctor's office every two weeks to get a shot in her back. I could hear her crying at night. The pain never went away.
But that Christmas Eve there was no pain. There were no visitors or parties like in years past. There was just us, the power of four.
We had just finished eating our lechon and arroz y christanos when Papi said to put on some music. The stereo was this old school tower complete with a record player and a dual cassette deck. There was a place to put on one of those new CDs everyone was using but it was just easier to put on a cassette and dance to Johnny Pacheco.
It was 15 minutes until midnight when Papi said, "I have to go to the bathroom."
Not but five minutes later, Santa Claus strolled into the living room. Leslie and I were so excited! I had sent him my list weeks before and I knew that I was going to make out like a bandit. I wasn't sure what my sister asked for but if I knew Santa she was going to have a great Christmas, too.
Santa ho, ho, ho-ed in his red-orange pants. His leather boots, with the redish tint, went all the way up to his knees and his belly extended far from him. His beard was as white as cotton balls and when he laughed he had to adjust it.
"Look who's here!" Mami was smiling, sitting perfectly still on her wooden chair.
Santa's magical bag of toys always looked like one of our pillowcases. That's because it was easier for him to carry, Mami said. This year, though, the bag that was filled almost until bursting looked a little smaller.
Santa sat at the ledge of the fireplace, next to Mami. Leslie sat in his lap first. She talked about how she was a good girl and did everything Mami y Papi said and never got into fights with me unless I started them. I could have pulled her hair right there but instead of scolding us, he laughed and handed her a toy, a doll she had asked for, a Barbie she hadn't, and some hot wheels because why not.
Then it was my turn. Santa's lap was skinny and I was almost too big to sit in it; I almost fell off. Last year, I reached his beard last year, but this year I reached his eyes and I looked into them. They were familiar and warm. For a second, Santa looked terrified, almost nervous. That's when he grabbed the bag and handed me my first present, a Barbie doll. Not like Leslie's, they were different but it was a Barbie, not Jem and the Holograms like I wanted. Then he handed me another doll, the one where you lifted her arm and her hair grew. That was the one I asked for. I waited for my next gift, the long awaited Barbie Dream House with making pink Corvette, but his big hands set me back down on the ground. After he did, he adjusted his beard again and I could see the edges coming off it it, stubborn cotton balls coming unglued.
He ho-ho-hoed again and ran to the back of the room. I looked at Mami who watched Leslie play with her toys. Then I looked around the room again. The tree was plastic this year, it used to be real and we would go as a family to pick it. But not this year. I hadn't noticed. There were no people at our house. Mami y Papi loved to host parties with all of their friends. They were legendary and they lasted until 6 a.m. with everyone drinking. I looked at the buffet, there were no bottles of anything. The table with our lechon, which used to be an entire roasted pig was smaller and this year we ran out of yucca. And they didn't dance to salsa music before, Papi just helped Mami to her wooden chair. We were just too busy to notice, staring at the clock for our presents.
Somehow, the living room looked smaller. The walls had eaten the space.
"Did you like what Santa brought you, Icess?"
On Mami's face was a forced smile. The pain had come back. She didn't want to take her medicine because it made her sleepy. I said yes when I meant no.
Papi came back from the bathroom and was distressed that he missed Santa Claus. "I wanted to see what he brought me," he joked and kissed Mami. He looked at me and winked. I smiled back and played Barbies with my sister.
That night I wasn't angry or sad or shocked but I knew something had changed. Next Christmas wasn't going to be like this Christmas, nor was the Christmas after that. There was a shift in the universe and a shift inside of me. I didn't know how to process it and it wasn't until much later, when I was already too adult to believe anymore, what I was feeling.
Childhood had ended.
I think back at this memory now and realize how strong my parents were, to have given us a Christmas during the oil bust of the 80s and the accident that broke my mother's back. She still has the pain and always will, though its become a part of her like her hair or nails. Papa, who has been gone now 10 years, never dressed as Santa Claus again. Christmases did get better but they were never the same and somewhere along the way, they lost their magic.
But not completely. On Christmas Eve, I think about Santa Claus. His red-orange polyester pants, his cotton beard, his skinny lap. That's when the magic comes back, that's when Christmas starts and I serve the lechon, play salsa music, and dance around my living room. The presents can wait, magic only happens one time a year.