“I bet that Santa Plaus doesn’t really have tiny reindeers. He just drives by in an old pickup truck and throws the presents out in the front yard. You and Daddy have to go out and get them. And Rudolph even have a shiny nose!”
These were the angry words of our youngest child when he was about 5 years old. He was not happy with me for some reason and thought these were the worst words he could say. He couldn’t quite get the “cl” sound out, so it came out as Santa Plaus. I had to turn around to keep him from seeing me almost laugh. This was classic Hartwell.
We had four kids … little stairsteps, pretty close in age. The holidays were lots of fun, but sometimes chaotic. Four kids contemplating the arrival of a fat jolly old elf delivering presents in the middle of the night was sometimes too much for them. They’d get louder and louder until there was a cacophony of high-pitched giggles and squeals. Sometimes my Vietnam-veteran husband with PTSD must have thought he was on the frontline.
Every year, the kids, who were all creative wrote a Christmas play and performed it before family and friends. Heather, the oldest and the only girl, was generally in charge of directing and writing the plays throughout the years. They were elaborate productions with sheets for curtain and a stage built with plywood and bricks.
These precious children of ours sang, danced, had great dialogue with their characters, and we made sure we laughed and clapped at the right times. They were like any other actors in a play. They took our energy and ran with it. Sometimes the plays didn’t even have Christmas themes. They were quite interesting especially when someone stepped on another’s lines.
“Hey, that’s my line!” an indignant Heath would yell … yes, yell.
“No it isn’t!” Heather would tell him.
“Yes,” it is!” he’d repeat and as Heather tried to interrupt him, he’d say in a resounding voice, “I quit!!” and stomp off.
This is when I’d have to act as referee and take control. I was the soother of hurt feelings and the show went on.
One Christmas, I got the brilliant idea of letting the kids use tempera paint and make Christmas creations inside on our front windows. Heath and Hayden were preschool age and Heather was in grammar school. Hartwell, well, I may have been pregnant with him. I just can’t remember. Hayden is my perfectionist. He had in mind what he wanted, but he just couldn’t create it exactly the way he saw it in his mind.
As he became more and more frustrated, I first suggested that he just wash it off and start over. I helped him. That was the cleanest the front door windows had been in years. Anyway, he started over and he still wasn’t happy with his creation. At almost 4, he was beginning to show an Irish temper like his mama.
He’d paint a little bit and run off shouting all kinds of frustrations. Heather finally got exasperated and said, “Hayden! This is supposed to be fun!”
She was pretty much finished with her masterpiece and commenced to helping Hayden. Heather was kind of a second mother to her brothers back then. She was good at soothing hurt feelings and especially Hayden’s frustrations. Before too long, we had beautiful Christmas scenes on every window … every one.
In truth, I thought that tempera paint would be easy to clean off the windows. No one told me it wouldn’t be. For many years, our window frames had tints of red and green, maybe a little gold and blue here and there. I mean like years. They faded with time. As the children got older, they lost interest in painting Christmas scenes and that was that.
We didn’t have a bunch of money when our little ones were little. We’d pile in whatever vehicle we were driving at the time and go looking for a tree along the side of the road or even in a pasture. It’s a wonder we weren’t arrested for trespassing. We never were. In fact, the most beautiful tree we ever found was growing out of an abandoned toilet near Redbone Ridge. This was before that area became a bonafide landfill. Folks would dump all kinds of stuff … including toilets. We still talk about that tree.
Sometimes the kids would get just a bit too argumentative as Christmas day grew closer. Excitement was getting the best of them. Bill decided to teach them a lesson about getting along. He took all the ornaments off the tree, packed them away and took the tree outside. Of course, the kids were begging him not to do it. They were crying and carrying on like their favorite toy had just been run over by a garbage truck.
He was not playing into their pitiful hands. They were heartbroken. Truly. They went to the back of the house with poor little Hartwell trailing behind and stayed in their rooms. Before too long, their mean ole’ daddy called them to come out in the living room. While they were comforting each other, their daddy had gotten the tree back inside and had it almost decorated again.
When they saw it, they started dancing around and hugging his legs. Heather knew, though. She knew her daddy would never take away their tree. He loved Christmas too much for that. And he loved his children too much to be that mean.
That night he read “The Night before Christmas” just like every year. It seemed a little more special that year. We drank hot chocolate and ate Christmas cookies, some over-decorated, but beautiful anyway. It kind of reminded me of that wonderful old show “The Waltons.”
Only … “Good night Heather, Heath, Hayden, and Hartwell.”
“Good night, Mama and Daddy.”
Coleen Brooks is a longtime resident of Gordon County who previously wrote for the Calhoun Times as a columnist. She retired as the director and lead instructor for the Georgia Northwestern Technical College Adult Education Department in 2013. She can be reached at email@example.com.