Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Year Without a Santa Claus

At the age of eight, I was still desperately trying to believe in Santa Clause. I was the baby of the family and my parents and older siblings were playing along with the deception just for me. "Let her believe for one more year," they all whispered behind my back.

Hadn't Santa Claus come down our chimney the previous year, leaving footprints around our Christmas tree. Then there was the racket on the roof which sounded just like reindeer, bells and all. Christmas morning we went outside to see sleigh tracks and reindeer prints on our snowy roof.

Of course there was a Santa Claus. Who else would bring me everything I wanted but also things I wanted but didn't even ask for!

There was talk at school. Some of the kids scoffed at those of us who believed in Santa. But they seemed to be the same kids who made fun of me for believing in Jesus and the Holy Ghost.

Every year we had our Christmas Eve traditions, singing and eating treats around the Christmas tree. Dad and Gail had great singing voices. Then we'd open up the one present which we knew was pajamas. The best part was listening to Daddy read the Christmas story from Matthew. He reminded us that this story was about the true meaning of Christmas and that we gave gifts to eachother because Jesus gave the greatest of all gifts to us.

I was impatient that Christmas evening in 1957. My oldest sister and my only brother were both out on dates. Mom, Jo and I had watched a special on TV, got the cookie plate ready for Santa, and waited for my father to come in from the garage.

We had long known the garage was where my Daddy hide presents. But this particular year, he was taking an extra long time out there. What could he be doing?

Then the back door opened, but it wasn't Dad. It was Steve returning from his date. He yelled down the stairwell in an alarmed voice, "Mom, come quickly. It's Dad. Bring towels and blankets! And keep the kids inside."

Jo and I clung together crying loudly while everything around us went out of focus. There was the shrill wailing of the sirens, the flashing red light atop the ambulance. Neighbors running in and out of our house. We peeked out the window to see firemen in the driveway pushing a gurney into the garage. Jo and I knew it was serious, but what had happened to our Daddy.

"Maybe he was using his saw and sawed off his hand!" I gulped between tears. It was the worst thing I could think of. Our kind neighbor from across the street came to sit with us. She explained how my father was climbing a ladder to retrieve presents from the garage attic. The ladder had slipped and he fell onto the concrete. He'd hurt his head and was unconscious, so the ambulance was taking him to the hospital where he might have to stay for awhile. Christmas would never be the same from that moment forward.

Mrs. Erickson spoke to us in a calm voice in gentle childlike terms. Jo and I were less agitated, but still fearful. "Will he die?" we asked. "Let's pray to Heavenly Father to watch over him," she whispered.
It seemed like we prayed amd cried half the night. There would be no opening our present of new pajamas, no singing or reading from the Bible. Finally, exhausted and out of tears, we fell asleep.
At the hospital, the doctors discovered my father had a massive skull fracture and a severe concussion. He had nearly bleed and frozen to death in the garage until my brother found him. Fortunately, Steve decided to go home early from his date. My father would remain in a coma for several months. He had no memory of the catastrophe.
Somehow my oldest sister Gail got word of Dad's accident and she rushed to the hospital to be with Mom and Steve. She wanted to know what she could do to help. My mother told her to go home to be with Sheri and Jo. Let them open presents on Christmas morning. Try to have a "normal" Christmas.
Gail (age 20) returned home after we had fallen asleep. She got a roll of paper towels and proceeded to write a "Letter from Santa Claus" about why Santa had to miss Christmas at our house that year. The letter filled the entire roll of towels. We all wept loudly as she read it to us on Christmas morning. It was then I knew for certain. Santa was my father and he was very, very ill. Neighbors brought us dinner, but we wouldn't see Mom for several days.
Thomas S. Monson was a neighbor in our ward. He was also a good friend to the Eardley family. He would later become Apostle Monson and is now the Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When he heard of my fathers accident, he went promptly to the hospital and gave Dad a blessing. He promised him that he would recover and lead a full life.
Daddy eventually recovered and returned to work, but it took a long time and a lot of medication. He was Grand Mal seizures from time to time after the accident, but finally the doctors were able to get his medicine right to control the seizures. Mom had to return to work to help support the family. Life went on. Dad died from colon cancer in 1985 at the age of seventy-eight.
We tried to have "normal" Christmases from then on, but there was always a cloud which hung over the day, I least for me. However, Light and Joy always return when I think of Christ and the real meaning of Christmas and I'm sure I'll see my Father again someday.
Christmas is supposed to be a joyous, happy occasion. Most of the time it is for me. For many people, however, it is a lonely time--a reminder of loves lost, broken dreams, broken hearts. Try to remember these people at this time of year and spread joy and hope.
Sometimes my heart isn't in Christmas like it should be. But I hope I will be forgiven. I will forever be reminded of my year without my Santa Claus. It ushered in the end of my childhood.
Winter Sky at Sunset


TravelinOma said...

What a heart-wrenching story. I'm glad he recovered and that you still had your dad while you grew up.

PI said...

Oh Sheri what an awful thing to happen. Thank Heaven you were in such a loving caring family to help you through. I'm sure your father would want you to try and enjoy Christmas again. He will never be out of your heart.

kenju said...

What a sad story for a child. I am so glad that he recovered, and I wish that he had been found sooner. Like, Pat, I am sure he would want you to celebrate Christmas with a much joy as you can muster.

Keri(th) said...

Wow Sheri, this is a such a moving story. Thanks for sharing it. Even though your Christmases have forever been changed, I hope this year's is especially wonderful for you.