A December Afternoon

“What is one of your fondest childhood memories?” Yet another query from our inquisitive daughter and Storyworth. Well…..

The challenge is that there are so many childhood memories I could choose to discuss that I’m hard pressed to decide which is the fondest. But there is one image…one moment…that often comes to mind.

I was probably six years old. Seven at the most. It was a December afternoon. Cloudy and a bit dark…threatening snow. A typical afternoon in St. Paul in December. I was in fist grade..walking home from school. We all went to Nativity Grade School. Our parish school.

In the course of that walk, someone (and in my mind I always think it was my sister Chris though that may not be right) decided to inform me that there was no Santa Claus. Well…you can imagine how disturbing THAT news was to a little boy who was still a believer. (LoL…that’s probably why I attributed it to Chris…she was a cold-eyed realist who wouldn’t mind busting her annoying little brother’s bubble. I love her dearly today, of course, but we DID have our moments in our childhood).

In any event, no matter who delivered the new devastating news, I remember arriving home near tears on that dreary December day. My Mom knew right away that something was wrong and I didn’t hesitate to tell her — hoping, she’d convince me it wasn’t true –though I think I knew in my heart that it was.

She called me to her and we sat together in an armchair tucked into the corner of the living room. The bank of windows looking out on the street were fogged at the corners thanks to the heat streaming from the radiator below them. The curtains further blocked the day’s uncertain light outside. Mom turned on the lamp. Maybe it was the shade on the lamp or maybe its just a trick of memory, but I remember distinctly feeling as if the corner in which we sat had become a small island bathed in a soft amber light, warm and safe and in sharp contrast to the oncoming twilight.

Mom pulled out a volume of the Book of Knowledge, the set of encyclopedias on the built-in bookcase behind our chair. I picture it all very clearly.

The piano was to our right as we looked out into the room. The windows on the left.The bookcase with the encyclopedias held some of my brother Dan’s sports trophies and Mom’s paint by numbers paintings — and odd pair featuring male and female ballerinas in harlequin style costumes and masks performing in an outdoor setting that included fallen columns and, I swear, a frosted cake in the foreground. Really.

Mom opened the book in her hands…and found what she was looking for. With the authority of the encyclopedia to lend weight to her words, she told me how Santa was real…but just a bit different than I thought. She told me how the magic of Christmas did exist. That the spirit of Santa was one that was shared by parents everywhere and that it was this magic…this spirit…that led them to want to give their children the joy and mystery of a Christmas in which a white-bearded saint of legend transformed the world for us all one night in a year.

I don’t remember her every word. But I remember the moment. The feeling. The comfort. And the sense that it was all OK. And it was.

My mother always loved Christmas. And she and my Dad always made it special, magical, and joyous. And I came to know it wasn’t about the gifts…or who delivered them…it was about the love of parents who cared and the love that we shared as a family. It’s a memory I treasure. And always will.

2 thoughts on “A December Afternoon”

  1. You are the only person I know who also had The Book of Knowledge. I loved them so much as a kid. When I found they’d disappeared during an international move, I was devastated. But to my great delight, I found a set at the annual book fair at State! Mine are black though.


    1. Some years later we bought the World Book Encyclopedia. and it replaced the Book of Knowledge. But I still remember the Book of Knowledge and it was wonderful.


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