“No Santa Claus?”
“That’s right, Cummings, no Santa Claus.”
Ordinarily, I would have dismissed such a claim as poppycock, but this was the class tattletale talking. He didn’t lie. Not ever. Maybe he was the quintessential snot, the person I’d most like to see stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel during an electrical storm. But lie? Not the class tattletale.
It was his mission in the second grade at St. Joseph’s School to uncover the unvarnished truth wherever he could find it…and tell it in all its ugliness to Sister Philomena.
“Sister, Sister, Fred Dewan shot a paper wad,” he would reveal pointing a finger. “Sister, Sister, Margaret Audet is chewing gum. Sister, Sister, Michael Cummings is stuffing a pea up his nose.”
I admit I stuffed a pea up my nose. Some one had told me there was a certain thrill to be derived from this practice, but I never found out what it was.
Anyway, the tattletale’s latest tale, that there was no Santa Claus, had devastated me with megaton force.
“Are you sure?” I whispered across the aisle.
He smiled sneeringly and I knew it had to be true. The class tattletale had said it was true. Besides, my powers of ratiocination were at that point where I was putting two and two together and getting four with Holmesian precision. In the case of Santa Claus, everything added up.
How could one man visit every home in the world on one night? And even if he could, what about the chimneys? Surely there must have been one that was too narrow for him.
No Santa Claus? Woe is me. What would Christmas be without him?
That evening, with only a week or so remaining until the big day, our family visited my grandmother’s at her house across from the old Roosevelt School in Newberry.
“What’s Santa gonna bring you” was the first thing she asked me. I didn’t let on that I knew there wasn’t any Santa Claus because I didn’t know whether she knew there wasn’t any. Maybe no body ever told her.
So I recited my list. Then she asked me if I had been good, and I assured her that I had been, not mentioning that I had stuffed a pea up my nose that very day.
As a reward for my goodness, she gave me a nickel and told me to go down to Goody’s West Fourth Street to buy some ice cream. I obeyed.
Inside the corner store, recessed under a porch like a cave under a hillside, the old floorboards creaked and groaned as usual as I moseyed up to the counter with my newly acquired wealth to transact for a chocolate covered ice cream bar.
Mr. Good himself waited on me. He was an old man who bent forward when he walked, and he never smiled a whole lot of said a whole lot. Just went about his business.
On this particular December day, he didn’t have a whole lot of business to go about – I being the only quest right away, then he drew a chocolate covered ice cream bar from a freezer.
I drooled with expectation.
When I presented my nickel in the palm of my hand, he gazed at me for a moment, looked me right in the eye. Wasn’t that nickel enough? I wondered. Had I done something wrong to cause him to stare? Had he lapsed into a trance?
Then he reached down and closed my hand back around the nickel, mumbled something about Christmas and walked away. “Thank you, Mr. Good,” I said shyly.
On my way back to my grandmother’s my Christmas present dripping down my chin, I considered the day’s events and concluded that for once in his life the class tattletale had been wrong.