The anticipation was almost more than she could handle. It was Christmas after all and in this little girl’s world, it was magic. She anxiously waited as her mom got ready and the two would head off to go Christmas shopping downtown. It was Richmond, Va. at holiday time, always a treat for the little girl with the rosy cheeks, and she never looked more forward to anything. As she plundered through her closet, she found her new Christmas dress, slipped into her black patent leather Mary Janes, combed her hair and donned her coat, carefully placing gloves in the pockets. Next to grab her purse, then scurrying to get her mom and head to the bus stop.
Her mom could sense the anticipation, and although Christmas had always been a challenge for her, she always went the extra mile to make it special. Money was tight and gifts were a real extravagance. She wasn’t sure how she could do it this year, but there was no choice. The sparkle of joy in the little girl’s eyes was all she needed for motivation. As they entered the Miller & Rhoads store, they were fascinated by the decorations, wreaths and garland, beautiful displays filled with tinsel and the promise of a very special day.
First step was always to go to the Book Department to see an old neighbor. The little girl was excited to see her in her work environment. She looked so important standing amid the novels and mysteries. After a few minutes, she was busy with customers again and the duo of mom and daughter headed off to see Santa. As they stepped on the elevator, the special one that went to SantaLand, the elevator operator wished them a wonderful time on their visit. It was as if she knew this would be a day she would always remember.
The entryway was filled with decorations, wooden soldiers, teddy bears, snowflakes, and polar bears and also people, lots and lots of people. Quickly they grabbed a place in line and the wait began. Now the lines were long, and many times started on a different floor, because at the end of this line was none other than the “Real Santa Claus”. The young believer knew there were mall Santas and others in Santa suits, ringing bells and seeing children, but this, THIS WAS THE REAL THING…SANTA CLAUS himself, straight from the North Pole.
Her heart was racing as she moved through the line, getting closer and closer, finally getting a glimpse of his beautiful white beard, his bright red suit and the light bouncing off of his shiny black boots. She was mesmerized, and there, to his right, was the magnificent Snow Queen, in the sparkling white gown that glistened in the light.
She could hear his voice now and as he turned to the Snow Queen, he called for the next child and each one he called by name. He knew their name even before he met them, because after all, he was Santa. He reached for the toddlers and placed them on his knee and settled back with the screaming infants, cuddling them close, while older children gathered around his chair. One by one, they told him what they wanted for Christmas as pictures were taken. He never made promises, but promised “Old Santa would try very hard to fulfill their wishes”, and off they went.
It was almost guaranteed that Santa would have to go check on his reindeer at some point, but he promised to return. The crowd would settle in for the much anticipated return, when suddenly a boot would appear in the fireplace, then another and then Santa looking refreshed and ready to hear more wishes. Before he could continue, he would ask for his mirror and brush and everyone watched in awe as he combed his white hair and beard. Finishing with a comment about how handsome he was, he settled into the chair adorned in gold and red velvet and called for the next wide eyed child.
It was her turn now and she approached the Snow Queen with pure awe. She felt the excitement all the way to the toes of her Mary Janes. When asked her name, she shyly answered and lo and behold, Santa turned and called her by name “Come over and see old Santa and let’s talk about what you want for Christmas” He reached for her with his white gloved hands and lifted her ever so gently to his knee. She gazed in his eyes and his beard was as white as snow. He had white bushy eyebrows and a bit of a crooked nose. “Have you been a good girl this year?, he asked. “Yes sir” she answered, voice barely above a whisper. There was always a special doll on the list with a few other things and with that, Santa placed the little girl firmly on the floor, pointing her in the direction of her mom anxiously waiting for her.
Next stop, the Tea Room, where the two would enjoy lunch together, discussing the visit and finishing up with Reindeer Cake. This was a rare treat as eating out was sort of a luxury for this little family. Back to the elevator with the nice person who asked where you wanted to go and actually pushed the buttons for you. The Bakery was next and there in the case were the most beautiful desserts the little girl had ever seen. Purchases would include a chocolate bar cake, homemade mints in pastel colors and sometimes there would be an eclair or a cream horn as a special treat. It was all packed ever so gently, in black and white checkered boxes and it was handled with care all the way home.
A visit to Santa would not have been complete without visiting Bruce the Spruce, the talking Christmas tree. There were special times that children could talk and sing with Bruce throughout the day as the magic continued. A little shopping after that usually crossing the street to the other major department store, Thalhimers. Picking up a few gifts, looking at the decorations and watching people scurrying around with huge shopping bags of Christmas treats.
As the day ended and the blue sky began to fade, dusk settled in and they completed the journey with a walk around the windows of both department stores. There were gorgeous, intricate displays with children and toys, elves and reindeer and all the pure magic of Christmastime. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of her year. And with that, the two bundled up and headed for the bus stop for the trip home.
I am sure you’ve guessed I am the little girl and I wrote this blog on December 13, 2020. The next morning the headlines read “Legendary Santa dies at 93”. I was crushed and heartbroken. It felt overwhelming with everything 2020 has dealt on top of my personal losses. It was then the excited little girl with the rosy cheeks came back to me. I remembered the innocence she had. Although as I grew up, I realized how difficult life was for my mom, I never knew that as a child. I didn’t know how tight money was or how hard holidays were for her, alone with three children. I wasn’t aware of how stressful it was to put the perfect dinner on the table at just the right temperature.
What I saw and felt was pure magic. I felt family and love and caring. I watched as each person opened the perfect gift, something with much thought behind it. I watched her do whatever it took to find that gift for each and every person. I saw the joy in their eyes as they sat around the dinner table, passing the favorite dishes and diving in like they hadn’t been fed in days. I remember the aromas emanating from the kitchen, I can still smell those today. Most of all I remember how happy I was and how perfect I thought life was as that rosy cheeked little girl.
So as you go to bed tonight, don’t worry about the children. They have something we don’t, which is the ability to only look ahead and that provides them optimism and comfort. Our children will be ok when the world settles down. Just make sure they see, hear and feel the love, because in the end, that’s what really matters.
To our “Santa“ Rest In Peace for the joy you brought to us will never be forgotten.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.