It must have been 1947, age four, when I first met Santa. Or maybe it was yesterday, or this morning. Isn't it strange how Santa and the human mind work? Whenever it was I know he is alive and well and hasn't aged a day.
My mother walked us up the three blocks or so to the F. W. Woolworth store. It might have been the S. S. Kresge store, but I don't think so. It was a gigantic place, with a second floor and everything. Actually it was one of many fascinating stores and banks and a slaughterhouse on a main commercial street in St. Louis. But, it was getting to go up to the second floor of Woolworth's that sticks in my mind. That was probably where all the "women's work" stuff was sold, and surely the double staircase was too much for a mere three-year old; so I'm sure I had never been up there before. On the second floor, in the back, sat Santa. My mother explained he wasn't the real Santa, but one of his helpers. She told me who the real Santa was, but it was many years and a kid of our own before I knew the truth.
I asked Santa for one of those riding cars. They were something like the Big Wheels which came much later, but they were made of real metal and you could sit in it (if you were four) and peddle it down the sidewalk and everything. The reason I know it was a riding car is not because I clearly remember it, but because my mother told me years later of my father staying up all night trying to figure out how to put the darn thing together. They hadn't known how much I wanted it until I'd told Santa. She reminded me of this after spending a similar night putting together a rocking horse for our first-born.
The reason I am so sure I was only four at the time is that we moved the November after I started Kindergarten and my grandparents bought the house we had lived in. The result was that Santa didn't get our forwarding address in time and we had to go back to "big grandmother's" house for Christmas. Whether there were any Santa's helpers in our new neighborhood eludes my memory (maybe you are only supposed to remember the first time you meet Santa). The thing that most clearly stands out is how high my brother and I thought the ceiling was in grandmother's living room. The chandelier towered above us. Years later my brother, who was a good six inches shorter than I, hit his head on that chandelier.
Anyhow, my mother, who was certainly one of the wisest women to ever walk the earth, never hid from us who Santa really is. She told us the truth about him when we were only four, and said it again many times over her ninety some years. The secret of Santa is something of a spiritual thing; perhaps understood only by parents, or maybe not even until you become grandparents.
"Santa Claus," she often repeated, "is the Spirit of Christmas. Wherever the Spirit of Christmas is, Santa Claus is." She was right, of course. Santa lives, he is alive and well in Brazil Indiana -- especially for four year olds. Santa Claus lives because the Spirit of Christmas lives.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.