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Still Beside Me

by Debbie McNaughton

A large glass of milk and twelve Toll House cookies sat on a holiday tray in the middle of the coffee table, awaiting Santa and the reindeer.

“Ask for three gifts. Santa has children all over the world needing presents,” Mum said, as she helped me with my good girl letter.

I felt assured I would see a cowgirl outfit under the tree. Deep in thought, I frowned then asked, “Mum, we have no fireplace for him to come down.”

“Santa has a magic way into every home. Sometimes he walks in the front door,” she replied. “Last year, he opened the unlocked attic window and marched right down our staircase!”

Later, snuggled up in bed, my anticipation was unbearable. I gazed out the window beside me towards the sky. Would I see Santa tonight?

Visions of sugar plums from the pages of my night time story lingered. In the wink of an eye, a sound far in the distance called to me. “HO, HO, HO.” The unmistakable belly laugh and loud sleigh bells made me sit bolt upright.

I opened the door to the hallway then scurried past the stairs into my parents’ bedroom. How can they be asleep, can’t they hear him?

“Dad, Dad, Santa’s here!” I shook him and whispered, wide eyed.

“No kidding!” He clutched a flash light from under the pillow, placed a finger to his lips, and then slipped out of bed to the floor.

Together, we crawled from the bedroom to the top of the staircase. Downstairs the parlor entry glowed like a rainbow. The oversized balsam tree radiated warmth and the record player filled the room with music, ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.’

“I think you better check it out. See if you can surprise him.” Dad nudged me on.

My right hand slid along the banister as I tiptoed down each step. Dad waved his hand forward. At the bottom, I peeked to the right with a wary look. I must have caught Santa for sure… then I bounced into the room!

“He’s been here!” I yelled, glued to the spot in delight.

Dad stood in the door way and shook his head in amazement.

“Look!” I held my fuzzy sox high. “It’s filled to the top, and the cookies and milk are gone, and Santa turned on the music and filled the whole room with presents!”

Dad swept me into his arms. “It was him alright little one, we missed him by a few minutes.”

“But I wanted to see him!” I started to cry.

“Boy, he’s quick, that’s for sure. We’ll have to try again next year. You’ll be bigger and faster by then. You’d better run upstairs and wake everyone. Tell them Santa came!”

Of course my mother, brothers and sister were awake, waiting for the scenario to play out, just as it had every year. Mum was a partner in staging the illusion, and reminisced with me on the yearly preparations.

“Your dad loved the excitement and acted like a child himself. He rigged a wire from our bedroom window that wound down the outside of the house to the family room,” she recalled.

“The wire stayed curled inside the sill until Christmas Eve. After everyone had gone to sleep he attached sleigh bells near the floor, then he waited until the right moment to pull the cord beside his bed to announce Santa’s arrival.

“It was 5am and I pleaded with him to go back to sleep,” Mum laughed. “We’d been up till 2am. It took that long to wrap and move presents from their hidden locations throughout the house and arrange them under the tree.”

It seemed so real to me at the time. I was sure Santa had been inside the house. Dad’s plan had played out as he stood outside my closed bedroom door. He’d flip a rigged switch inside the attic entry, turning on the lights and record player. He’d echoed the jolly elf laugh with a slow but steady, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” until he was sure I was awake. Then he’d race back to bed and pretended to be asleep.

Each holiday, this scene repeated with precision and I was always disappointed to miss Santa. How could I have known that he’d been beside me all the while?

Today, these endearing memories take place in my home on Christmas morning. At 5am the production starts when my daughter hears the sleigh bells ring, and a hearty laugh echoing down the hallway.

Happy Holidays to All!

PS: Thank you, Santa and Mrs. Claus, for my cowgirl outfit.

Photographs courtesy of Debbie McNaughton

Debbie McNaughton is a writer of short stories drawn from everyday life. She is a Member in Letters of the National League of American Pen Women and a member of Cape Cod Writer's Center.

Debbie is a regular contributing writer to CapeWomenOnline and has also been published in Seeing the Everyday magazine.

Debbie and her daughter have lived on Cape Cod for 10 years. They collect mermaids, listen to loud rock music and dream of owning a red corvette.

Debbie welcomes emails at