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12/25/02 The Voice Newspapers

by John Hebert

It was Christmas, 1950. My brother Bill was seven and I was 12. Both of us were too "sophisticated" to believe in Santa Claus but we were still up before five-thirty. After trying to stall as long as they could, Mother and Dad had gotten up too, Dad in his faded purple bathrobe and Mother in her bright new one.

It was a cold, gray morning; the wind whistled around the house and got in several places. The oil heater hadn't yet taken the chill from the air but we didn't notice as we passed out the presents and tried to keep Tiger, our tailless cat, from climbing the Christmas tree again or knocking down more bulbs than she already had.

Our family tradition called for only one present to be opened at a time -- this added to the anticipation. We could all enjoy the opener's pleasure, and it made it seem like there were more of them.

About six o'clock we'd finished. Bill and I had set up some Lincoln-log fortifications and were busy having a "war" on the living room floor. Dad was wearing his new slippers and reading the mystery Mother had gotten him; she was fixing breakfast. None of us was prepared for the knocking at the door.

"Who can that be?" Mother said, looking out from the kitchen.

"Don't know," Dad said gruffly as he walked to the front door and opened it. The wind howled, but the drifting snow revealed a less than terrifying apparition.

"Ho, ho, ho," the apprarition boomed, for there in his white beard, red suit and black boots stood Santa Claus. "Merry Christmas! Did you get everything that you wanted?"

"Uh...yes, Santa... Merry Christmas... thank you," we stammered. I don't remember who said what; we were all so stunned that it's a wonder anybody said anything at all. There he stood, on our porch, the man that Bill and I knew was only a story, yet... We all continued staring as he chortled a final jovial "Merry Christmas" and stepped off the porch. Dad closed the door very slowly and we all looked at each other.

After less than a minute, Mother said something about offering him a cup of coffee. Dad opened the door again and looked out. The snow was still blowing, but there was no sign of the jolly man in the red suit.

We sat and talked over breakfast, figuring he was someone from the neighborhood who was stopping at all the houses that had lights on that early morning, with the idea of thrilling the young children who would be up.

For several days afterward, Dad tried to find out who it had been, but drew a blank. Nobody else had seen him, and nobody admitted to playing Santa Claus early that morning. The "Mystery Santa" remained unkown to us.

Now, almost fifty years later, I still wonder who he was. To be sure, he was a man who loved children and wanted them to be happy on Christmas Day, just like the legendary Santa Claus. He must have given many small children a thrill, especially those who still believed in him.

Of course we all know that he's a myth, but...what if...?

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12/25/02 Hebert Column