It was a few weeks until Christmas and we had more gold tinsel garland decking our halls than Blaze Starr had pasties, or so my grandfather informed me. He always had a witty remark that was rarely ever appreciated by my grandmother. I was in the first grade and my grandfather,
Pop-Pop, was the center of my world. Just as he was about to explain pasties to me, my grandmother insisted Dad go to Epstein’s for more garland and to take me with him. Instead of ignoring his mother, as he usually did, he took my coat from the hall closet and shoved my arms in the sleeves. I told him I needed a hat and mittens and he begrudgingly found them, too.
I had never, ever been to a store with Dad. Ever. I wondered if he knew where the stores were. We drove the couple of blocks to Light Street in silence with only Dean Martin crooning in the background. Dad parked the Cadillac in the lot behind Holy Cross where I went to school and we headed to the store. It was dark, but only a little after dinner time. Most of the stores were closed except for Epstein’s and Read’s. Dad said if I behaved he’d buy me a hot chocolate at The White Coffee Pot afterwards. We found the garland immediately and were near the check out line when Dad changed
direction and headed towards Santa.
I panicked. I couldn’t see Santa like this, in my brown loafers and stirrup pants! Mom would have a fit. She had rules about what to wear when visiting Santa. My new white satin dress was at home in my closet. I hadn’t even had my appointment at Andre’s yet to get my hair done. This was going to be very bad. I thought I might start to cry which would have made Dad angry, he hated tears, and I didn’t want to wreck my only shopping trip with Dad and spoil my chances of hot chocolate later.
Santa sat on the landing between Women’s Wear and Housekeeping. His yellowing gloved hands rose high above his head as we stepped next to him. He began to talk very fast about his probation officer having it out for him and promising he’d check in with her in the morning. Dad instructed him to put his hands down. I looked at his stained, faded suit and his beard that hung a little too low off his face. He was nothing like the real Santa who we saw at Hutzler’s each year. I was relieved that Dad didn’t make me sit on his lap or have my picture taken. Maybe Mom didn’t need to know about this visit after all. From where I stood I told the man in the Santa hat what I wanted most for Christmas; a Barbie Dream House. Santa seemed relieved as he pulled his beard up and gave a slight wave when we walked away.
Over hot chocolate, Dad asked me not to say anything about the “Santa thing” to Mom and especially not to my grandmother. I kept my promise, well until now, and on Christmas morning awoke to find a three-story Barbie house complete with elevator. The card read,”Love,Santa”, but I knew by then who really wore the red suit.