Thursday, December 15, 2011

Santa's Christmas Hike

In my grandfather Franklin Smith's 1993 autobiography Acorn to Oak there is a Christmas story I think of every year and read every Christmas Eve. Perhaps you may enjoy the read too.

Santa's Christmas Hike
pg. 261-263

When I was a kid, Christmas had all the magic that it has now.  Santa Claus was just as real as he is now.  Parents loved their children as much. The snow was just as white, and the Christmas trees just as green.

But, there was something different in those days, (I mean fifty years ago), an element which seemed to add to the magic and wonder of Christmas. That element was called poverty.
Grandpa as a  boy.

My Dad was a painter and paperhanger in our little town, and he was too soft-hearted to ever charge the right price for a job. It was the only thing I ever heard Mom and Dad argue about. I was the second-oldest of seven children, and the last baby was about one-half years old when this little drama was enacted.

I could call it the White Willow Christmas, because that year our Christmas tree was a dead branch from the old willow tree decorated with stringed popcorn and colored paper.

The year is 1932.   It is Christmas Eve, and so far no shopping has been done for the Big Day.   Dad has been working round the clock lately, night shift at the sugar factory, paperhanging through the day, getting perhaps four hours sleep a night.

After supper on Christmas Eve Dad hitch-hikes into Lethbridge, the big city, twenty-two miles away. Before leaving Raymond he arranges with a friend to meet him in the lobby of the Marquis Hotel at 10:00 p.m. and bring him home.

Dad gets a ride into Lethbridge and arrives about 8:00 p.m. He has two hours shopping time - plenty of time, he tells himself, to spend the ten dollars which is his allotment for Christmas.  Ten dollars for nine people!  It will take some fancy juggling - one dollar per person and dollar left over for candy.

Santa heads straight for Woolworth's. He has a list, and you can be sure he is checking it twice.  Three small items, not over thirty-five cents apiece, for each child, is the ration.  The remainder will have to do for Mrs. Claus and the candy.

Santa's two hours fly by like one. It's 10:00 o'clock before he knows it, and he still has baby to buy for and Mrs. Claus. He puts on a burst of speed.  Surely the friend at the hotel will wait.  Santa bustles about. Twenty minutes later the job is done.  It is 10:30 p.m. when Santa reaches the Marquis Hotel.  The friend is nowhere in sight.  Santa's step falters. He checks at the hotel desk.  Sure enough, there is a note: "Tell Mr. Smith I've gone home."

Marquis Hotel
Santa, who is not as young as he once was, suddenly feels ten years older.  He looks round for another ride.  It is bitter winter outside, a foot of snow on the ground, and ten degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.  He waits half an hour. No luck.  He waits till midnight. The hotel is deserted.

Santa begins to walk, his light but precious pack on his back. He walks an hour. No one picks him up. He reaches the St. Mary's Bridge on the edge of town. There is no more traffic.  Santa is alone on a bitter cold night with twenty miles to walk.  It is a bright night with full moon.  Santa's internal state reminds him that he hasn't eaten for seven hours, nor slept for thirty.

Fearful of not getting home in time for Christmas morning, Santa decides to cut corners. Leaving the road, he strikes out across the fields.  He walks for hours.  Finally, he sees a cluster of grain elevators in the distance.  Thinking they are the landmarks of Raymond he quickens his pace in their direction.  Hours later, it seems, he reaches them, only to find they belong to a neighboring town, and he is still five miles from home.

Mr. & Mrs. Claus
Santa takes no more chances.  He follows the railroad track to Raymond and, at daybreak, arrives, spent but cheerful, at the little three-room shack that is the Smith household.

Somehow Mother had kept us kids out the front room till Santa's entry. We waited another half hour before being allowed in.

And then - another Christmas miracle!  My three little presents consisted of a game of dominoes, a small wind-up toy car, and a second-hand book from the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, (price 5¢ still on the inside cover).  These tiny gifts were wrapped in loads of love and they made me ecstatically happy. 

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