My parents were barely out of their teens when my sister was born in 1930. Five years later my big brother was born. Those two little kids were brought up during the Depression and moved with my mom and dad from city to city wherever my dad could find work including Dallas, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Cincinnati, and Lexington. My family had moved to Denver by the time I came along in 1947. I was an accidental baby that had the misfortune to live in a family who believed the Depression was still going on. Throughout my youth and teen years, I thought my mother was as tight as the Grinch. But I can remember when even she lightened up at Christmastime and made cookies, fudge, divinity, and hot chocolate too.
Just before Christmas my dad found this new time saving can of concentrated coffee (the size of a big tomato juice can). The concept was simple: put a spoon of concentrated coffee into a cup, add hot water, and wham-o you have intensely rich coffee. The last item I placed on the drop leaf table was the big can of liquid coffee. Back then tin cans had holes punched on either side to allow air pressure to let the contents flow: I guess resealable tops had not yet been invented. At first the table leaf teetered, and then it tottered. I reacted quickly, but not quick enough. The table tumbled onto our brand new wall to wall carpet. Bloody hell again! I thought for sure I would die on this day. I raced to the phone and called my dad to come home quick, I told him my mom was going to kill me. He rushed home from work. The carpet was stained forever. It was all my fault.
I think it was the next Christmas that my folks last spent together. My dad had been in the hospital for some unspoken problem which I now think involved his prostate. I remember being surprised and so happy when he came home on Christmas Eve day. I told him how much I missed him and loved him. I remember him hugging me so tightly that day. A week later on New Year's Eve day we all awoke to a great fire. I remember hearing fire engine sirens awaken me in the early morning. The sirens were screaming in our little town. That sort of thing just did not happen back then. Sirens and cops and fire engines were foreign to me. We looked out from our living room window to flames and smoke visible more than three blocks away. I remember it well, this truly was bloody hell. The next day was New Years Day, my birthday. I walked up to the scene of the fire: a Safeway store at 38th and Benton. I remember people walking among the ruins. The front wall was gone and water was all over the floor. People were picking up cans of food as though they were souvenirs or something. Like a little fool I followed the adults inside and found a lime which I kept as my prize.
By the next Christmas my mother and dad had divorced. My mother told me there would be no Santa Claus that year. She said I was too big. I was not too big: I was still a squirt. My big brother had told me continuously for years that there was no Santa. The year prior (when my dad came home from the hospital) I went shopping with my mother and grandmother. My prying eyes spotted little toys and a 45 RPM record of Ave Marie that ended up in my Santa stocking on Christmas Day. So I reluctantly admitted to myself that my treacherous big brother hadn't made this stuff about Santa. Well, he was still being mean: he wanted to spoil Christmas for me. Not so fast you big dick. I'll teach you one last trick.
So on that Christmas Eve day when I was told not to hang my stocking, I decided to have one last visit from Santa. I went to Woolworth's and bought some candy and small toys including pieces for my Lionel train set. I returned to my house and found one of my mother's nylon stocking which I filled with the small toys, candy, and some fruit and hid the stuffed stocking in the garage.
We didn't have a fireplace. I always left the front door unlocked so Santa could get inside and leave my presents under the tree and fill my stocking attached to the floor lamp in our living room.
Before I went to bed that Christmas Eve night I made a point of going into my mother's bedroom to fetch a final nylon stocking which I hung it on the floor lamp in our living room like I had done for years before. My mother said it would be of no use. She knew not of my soon to be ruse. I went to bed, but not to sleep. In the middle of the night through the house did I sneak while my mother and brother continued to sleep. I crept to the garage to retrieve my shocking stocking. While my mother and my brother continued to doze, my Christmas trick replaced her nylon hose with soon-to-be-gifts I purposefully chose.
For every year that I could remember, I would spring from my bed by dawn's early light, to see what Santa had left me that night. I remember on year my mother yelling at me from her bedroom with the door ajar, "Get back into bed!". So that last Christmas I stayed in bed until my mother and brother had arisen, and through the door I did listen. She asked my brother if he had filled the stocking with toys and treats not to be found in our house. No he said, had she? How could it be, did Santa exist after all? I finally got up delighted in having created on the perfect Santa Caper. I took the toys from my stocking and said not a word.