Monday, Monday . . .
If no one is walking down the yellow brick road, does the Scarecrow move his arms . . .
My arms were strangely tired this morning. I thought maybe it was from turning my pillow over and over and over again last night.
Turning it over, knowing that I was riding up the hill to school for the first time since handing off my keys to the kingdom up there.
Over again, knowing that once I got there I would be circling up with a group of brave kids ready to face a grinch. Eight Who-citizens preparing to climb walls and bridge an abyss to see if the man in the red hat who came down the chimney a couple weeks ago was going to destroy the gifts of Whoville.
And over a couple times more, maybe just because it was Monday eve, and my muses still thought it was their night.
So, what follows — and what I hope follows in Mondays ahead — are some directions from a scarecrow in the field. If you happen down the road he’s on, don’t be surprised if one moment he suggests this way, another he suggests that way and yet another he suggests you just pause and stick around awhile.
The year before he died, when the doctor gave him the prognosis, my dad’s one question was: “Will I get to see another Christmas?”
Dad’s words always ring in my head this time of year, and they did again today as I rode my bike up State Street. My video library shuffled to Decembers past, and suddenly I was in the family station wagon with my 5 brothers and sisters and Mom. We must have been “good” that day, because if we were, Dad would load us up for a ride down State to “see the lights.” In those days, every block had a giant Christmas tree, and dreams of Chatty Kathies and LA Rams football gear danced in our heads, as we slowly drove from the Arlington, past Newberry’s, Ralph Runkles, Osborne’s and Kress’ Five & Dime to Otts, hanging a right just past the Pet Shop and Blue Chip Stamps, singing along with Bing and Perry on the AM radio.
And as often happens when the big tree in front of the Arlington rises into view, my muses fast forwarded to an entirely different December memory. One of a middle school dad friend of mine . . .
“Not that one again,” I objected, “I‘ve already written about that story, and remember all those others you want me to share?”
Much like that one feisty fairy in Scrooged, my muses smacked me: “Shush! Some stories are meant to be told over and over. You just get us up Sola, Alta Vista and Jimeno; we’ll take care of the story”
So, Monday, Monday veterans, my apologies, but here goes . . .
Seems this friend of mine had two sons who went to Santa Barbara Middle School. With no TV at home, his family had managed to hold on to the magic of their young imaginations longer than most seemed to these days. He was worried for his sons though, because it was December. With holiday roll call sharing in my class, kids would invariably be poking fun at Santa and Rudolf. My friend’s two sons celebrated Christmas and Hanukah at their house. Every December, candles and crèches, gelt for the Maccabees, cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer sparkled there. Even though his kids were now in Middle School, my friend was sure his sons still believed those black footprints and cookie crumbs in front of the fireplace were Santa’s. His wife thought he was crazy.
So . . . my friend decided that — as with most milestones in his kids’ lives — he wanted to be the first to bear the bad tidings of great disenchantment. Mom would meet them Friday after mountain biking class at the Mission. They would watch the sun go down with the donkeys and the lambs and the wise men. Before heading down to “Santa’s house” on Anacapa and the premier of The Grinch, my friend would let his kids know the truth about Santa Claus. His wife thought he was being dramatic. My friend said the last time his stomach was so full of butterflies was the evening he proposed marriage.
And so, as he held on tight to the split rail fence of the manger, he told his boys.
Faces drooped. Eyes teared up. My friend’s VW open sleigh was silent all the way to Santa’s and long into Whoville. While the boys went to the bath-room, his wife leaned over to him and said with tears in her eyes, “They really did believe. Maybe you shouldn’t have told them.”
My friend was going to say, “Thanks, Dear,” but couldn’t choke up the words.
My buddy shook his head and told me the Grinch had nothing on him that night.
Since that milestone December evening, my friend and his wife and their kids have been taking their lesson from the Who’s. Learning that Christmas is even more joyful when you get to be a drummer boy, a shepherd — or Cindy Lou.
Decorations are going up, candles of many colors are twinkling in neighborhoods, dreams of dreidels and sugar plums deck the Middle School halls. As your kids revel this month, my friend’s story rings in my head and heart. As your kids grow into their suits of giving . . . as they become the new elves and elders of this world . . . I hope we can all continue to kindle their belief in magic — and remind them to never forget to feed the reindeer.
Be good for goodness sake,