FICTION

The Truth about Santa

Meet the Heydons—Mother and Dad, proper but nice, four daughters, but that could happen to anyone—and oh yes, battling Santa Claus Wentworth

ROSAMOND DUJARDIN December 15 1943
FICTION

The Truth about Santa

Meet the Heydons—Mother and Dad, proper but nice, four daughters, but that could happen to anyone—and oh yes, battling Santa Claus Wentworth

ROSAMOND DUJARDIN December 15 1943

MISS MILLS, our English teacher, wants us to write the story of one of our personal experiences. She has a very dear friend who teaches English in a Winnipeg high school and she, the dear friend, is giving her class a similar assignment. Then Miss Mills will send ours to Winnipeg, Man., and the friend will send theirs to Edgewood, and we will read each others. This should be a very good test of our writing ability, and since the essays won’t be read by anyone who knows us we can be less inhibited, so Miss Mills says.

She also said to begin by telling something about ourselves to give the story character. So I am Tobey Heydon and am 16 years old. My real name is Henrietta Tobey due to the fact that my mother got sort of desperate when she saw another girl and named me for my father, whose name is Henry. But, thank the stars, my grandmother’s maiden name was Tobey. Otherwise it would have been too awful. People might have called me Henny, and I would have simply died.

Ours is quite a large family. Beside my mother and father, who are pretty old, but nice, there is Janet, who is 23 and who married Jimmy Clark, a construction engineer, and now has Toots, aged three. Then there is Alicia, who is 20 and considered beautiful, if you care for blondes, and who is engaged to Adam Wentworth, a senior at university and the son of Mr. Wentworth who owns Edgewood’s largest store. I also have a very young sister, Midge, who is seven, and whom my father calls the Afterthought, this being his idea of humor.

We live in a large house but it is a little crowded right now due to the fact that Janet and Toots are staying with us. The trouble with marrying a construction engineer is that he is always being sent to the weirdest places. And with a child as young as Toots, Janet has to think about the water and the milk supply and things like that. So when her husband had to go to Labrador, on some kind of war construction job, Mother and Dad insisted that she and Toots come home. And Janet did, but now all she does is mope around and write letters and act like she is moaning low or something, all the time. It is very trying and I cannot see why she worries over Jimmy, who is a large, husky type and quite competent to take care of himself.

Another reason we were a little crowded was because Adam Wentworth was home for the holidays, and while he didn’t live with us he might just as well because he was around all the time. One never knew, in going about the house on one’s own business, when one would come upon him and Alicia, and they have no inhibitions whatever. They are always kissing. And while I, personally, have nothing against this form of amusement I should think they would want to do something else for a change, now and then.

I would not tell all these intimate details about my family, who are really not bad in their way and of whom I am naturally fond, except that I know that you who are going to read this will never meet them, anyway, and so my frankness can embarrass no one.

This story took place just before Christmas, up to and including Christmas Eve, when it suddenly reached its climax. There are some of our neighbors who have made very unkind remarks, even stating that “things were going too far with all that screeching and fighting and calling in the police on Christmas Eve of all times. But that they were really not surprised at anything that happened in that household!” Meaning us, which is most unfair since there has never been anything in the least peculiar about our family, except having four daughters and that could happen to anyone.

Of course, I will admit that in some ways it is a difficult household. For example, one cannot maintain any glamour whatever in a family with so many women around, especially sisters, who are likely to say anything. Lana Turner is my ideal and yet when I very conservatively applied a little bit of makeup one night shortly before Christmas and came downstairs, where Brose Gillman was waiting to take me to the movies, my young sister, Midge, began to hoot in a very raucous tone. Alicia tore her attention away from Adam long enough to throw me a glance of mingled amusement and horror. And Janet said, right in front of Brose and everybody, “Mother, look at this dope! She’s got lipstick all the way down to her chin! And if it’s my lipstick ...”

And she got up right that minute and went upstairs to see.

Dad said, “You did go a little heavy on it, youngster.”

And Mother nodded. “Do stop slouching, Tobey. You’ll have curvature of the spine. And you must wipe your mouth.”

Brose simply looked at me, but his eyes were very understanding and he sort of raised his brows in a most sympathetic manner.

I said hastily, because I could hear Janet rummaging in her dresser drawer, “All right, Mother,” and I scrubbed my mouth with my handkerchief. “C’mon, Brose.”

HE DIDN’T hesitate a second. He is simply wonderful. I wouldn’t confide this to anyone I knew, because it doesn’t pay to let your true opinion of a man get around, but I am really crazy about Brose. He is sort of tall and he has light brown hair with a little bit of curl in it, and be is strong and silent like Gary Cooper, who is another one of my ideals. We went out in a hurry and ran down the steps hand in hand, and luckily he had persuaded his father to let him have the car, even with the gas rationing, so we hopped in and he drove away rapidly. I had him stop under the first street light so I could fix my mouth again with Janet’s lipstick.

Brose said softly, “Don’t let ’em get you down, Tobey. You look swell.” He then squeezed my hand and it was very sweet and satisfying and we drove on.

We had to park almost two blocks from the Bijou because Edgewood certainly turns out for a good picture. This one was wonderful and so sad. I adore sad pictures but Ambrose doesn’t. However, there was a Mickey Mouse so we both enjoyed ourselves.

Afterward we stopped at Genevieve’s Grill for a barbecue. They have dancing Wednesdays and Saturdays and this was Wednesday so we danced. It is lots of fun at Genevieve’s because there is always a mob we know and the men cut in just as they do at proms and it is very jolly and informal.

After awhile I noticed Adam and Alicia dancing in a corner, but they didn’t see us, at least I didn’t think so. Maybe they just pretended not to so Adam wouldn’t have to dance with me, although as far as I, personally, am concerned he is doing me a favor not to, because l think older men are the dumbest dancers! Alicia kept her eyes shut all the time because it is a standing rule in Edgewood that when a girl is dancing with her eyes shut she is perfectly contented and doesn’t want to be cut in on.

They left before we did, and I guess Alicia can see with her eyes shut because when we got home Janet came in from the library with a pen in her hand (she had been writing to Jimmy, which is not news, any more than the dog biting the man) and fire in her eye and said, “It was my lipstick! Alicia saw you running around with your mouth all over your face. Give it to me this minute!”

I gave it to her silently, and Brose squeezed my elbow admiringly for such patient forbearance, and she went back into the library with her darned old lipstick. We looked into the living room and Alicia and Adam were sitting in front of the fireplace, and then we looked into the dining room and Mom was wrapping Christmas presents, with red and green paper and silver string spread all over the table, because in a house where there are children who believe in Santa Claus everything has to be kept very secret, especially when one of them is inclined to be suspicious like my sister, Midge.

So we went out and sat in the breakfast nook and since the refrigerator was so handy we had some devil’s food cake and a glass of milk apiece.

Brose leaned across the table toward me, with his eyes very intense, and said, “Tobey, will you tell me the truth about something?”

And l said, “Of course, Brose,” and my heart felt a little funny because you have to admit it is a sort of propitious question around Christmas time.

So then he said, “Are you going to like Ramona, bound in leather, for Christmas?”

I guess my face sort of fell because he went on at once, in a very disgusted tone, “I knew it! But you can’t argue with my mother. Her ideas are absolutely mid-Victorian!”

I said politely, but probably not very enthusiastically, “Why, that would be lovely, Brose.”

But I didn’t fool him for a minute. “It would not. But my mother thinks a book is the very nicest thing to give a young girl—especially one of the classics.”

And I said, “If it wasn’t one of the classics it wouldn’t be so bad.” And we both laughed. But almost at once Brose sobered. “She’s already bought it for me to give you. But you look around carefully in the package,” he confided, darkly, “and you may find something else. I still got some allowance left and now that I know how you feel ...”

He is really too wonderful. But just then who should come into the kitchen but Alicia and Adam, with their arms wound around one another in the most goofy manner.

Alicia said, “Why, Tobey—you know you should be in bed before midnight! You better scram before Mom finishes her Christmas packages and discovers you.”

It is too simply degrading to be spoken to in that manner before the man you admire—but Brose understood. We went out of the kitchen, with dignity, and I could hear my sister starting to open the refrigerator. I was glad we had eaten all the cake.

So then we sat down on the stairs because in that manner we could hear anyone approaching from either the kitchen or the dining room and Brose could leave by the front door and I could run upstairs, without any further scoldings.

Brose said, broodingly, “I think they’re terrible to you, Tobey. Every single one of them. When I’m older . . ”

He left it at that but it was a very thrilling speech because it sort of implied things, although one had to imagine just what the things implied were.

He said, with disgust, “And that Adam Wentworth, standing around looking smug while Alicia calls you down— he gives me a pain. The old Santa Claus ...”

I said, “Santa Claus?” being sort of dumbfounded.

And Brose said, “Sure—hasn’t he told Alicia?” And he laughed.

So then it all came out. Brose knew about it because his father is general manager of Wentworth’s Department Store and he had told them about it at home because it struck him sort of funny.

The old man who had been Santa Claus at Wentworth’s every year had come down with tonsilitis a couple of days before. Mr. Wentworth, who. is sort of tight and suffers acutely every time he sends Adam his allowance at university, in spite of the fact that he has plenty of money, decided that his son might as well help out since he was at home and doing, as his father said, nothing as usual.

So Adam had been spending his days at the store in a red velvet suit and long white whiskers and a pillow from the bedding department stuffed in front. I remembered he hadn’t been around quite as much as usual and we laughed about it and then I heard mother coming out of the dining room and Brose left.

But I couldn’t resist the temptation to stick my head through the kitchen door before I went upstairs and hiss, “Good night, Santa Claus.”

Adam was kissing Alicia but the back of his neck got quite red so I knew he had heard me. And Alicia heard me, too, because as I turned away I heard her say, “Santa Claus? What’s she talking about, Adam?”

All the way up to bed I smiled inscrutably, just as Lana Turner would if she had put over a fast one and confounded her enemies.

ALICIA was quite cool the next morning. Alicia looks ghastly at breakfast, being blond and rather pale; whereas I am darker and more vivid and can sparkle as effectively at the breakfast table as any other place. This is a little secret joke Adam is going to have sprung on him on the honeymoon, when and wherever it takes place.

Janet was trying to persuade Toots to eat his cereal instead of dropping it by spoonfuls into his orange juice; Dad was reading the paper and Midge was eating toast and licking the marmalade off it, which is only one of her disgusting habits. Mother, who is always kept very busy mornings, making more toast and filling coffee cups, wasn’t paying much attention when Alicia addressed me frigidly.

“I suppose you thought that was funny last night—about Santa Claus.”

I said nothing whatever, merely smiling obscurely.

“Just because the regular Santa Claus developed this tonsilitis and Adam’s father made him dress up . . .”

Mother and Janet both said, “Shhh,” very loud, and Midge and Toots looked up interestedly and then all of a sudden Toots started to cry.

After much comforting and questions it turned out that he was crying because, he figured, if Santa Claus were sick he mightn’t be able to bring him the electric train, which is all he has been talking or thinking about for some time.

Midge said, conversationally, through a mouthful of milk, “There’s a girl in school tol’ me there wasn’t any Santa Claus anyway, so how could he have tonsilitis?”

Mother, who is old-fashioned and thinks it is a major tragedy when the Santa Claus myth is dispelled, exclaimed aghast, “Why, Midge, darling—you know the little girl is wrong. Hasn’t Mother told you—and didn’t you write to tell him what you wanted, and hasn’t he always come?”

Midge said, calmly, “Yeh, but she said so—an’ she can skate on ice skates, awful good, too. D’you suppose he might bring me some?”

Mother said, weakly, “Ice skates?” Midge had decided she wanted no less than 50 different things during the past week. “Why—why—certainly not unless you believe there is a Santa. How could he?”

Midge said, craftily, “I’ll b’lieve in him, then.” And Dad sort of choked behind his paper and Mother glared at him. By this time Janet had succeeded in comforting Toots and, having crammed some cereal down him, sent him outdoors with Midge to play in the snow. So then we could talk and eat in peace.

Mother said, “Now what’s all this about Adam and Santa Claus? That was very thoughtless of you, Alicia, with the children here.”

Alicia said, “I don’t care. She makes me tired, and Adam didn’t like it a bit.”

She was looking straight at me so they all knew whom she meant and Dad said, “What’s Tobey done now?”

So then Alicia told them all about it. “Trying to embarrass Adam, that’s what she was doing,” she accused. “As though it were some sort of disgrace for him to play Santa Claus—and anyway his father simply insisted. I think it’s—sweet.” She gave me an acid or dirty look.

I said, pleasantly, “I think so too, I can just see him with the lovely, darling whiskers and the pillow in his tummy.”

Janet grinned. “Why don’t you have him come down Christmas Eve in costume and convince our doubting Thomas?” She indicated Midge’s empty chair with a motion of her head. “It would thrill Toots to death, too.”

I said, “Alicia, too. Think of being kissed by Santa Claus?”

But no one paid any attention to me.

Mother said, raptly, “Oh, Alicia, do you think he could? It would be simply sweet. We’d have the tree lighted and Adam could come in the window, and the children—why, it would be something they’d remember all their lives. Do you suppose you could persuade him, darling?”

Alicia seemed to think she could persuade Adam to do anything, including arson or murder, and I guess she was right, because although he demurred, strenuously, at first, it was eventually settled that he would come in, via the window, Christmas Eve.

THE last few days before Christmas are always fairly hectic in our household, but this year they were especially so due to the fact that Midge was on the lookout for anything the tiniest bit suspicious. And believe me, when my younger sister is on the lookout very little escapes her. This necessitated our doing all our wrapping and storing of gifts in the darkest secrecy, which meant after Toots and Midge had retired for the night.

But eventually Christmas arrived, as most momentous occasions do, provided a person waits long enough. We were all pretty thrilled because no matter how blasé a person is, normally, Christmas has a way of getting them just the same—especially in my case because I was naturally intensely curious to learn what else could be hidden in the package with Ramona, which Mrs. Gillman had selected. Then, too, I had done considerable hinting concerning a new formal and a maroon taffeta house coat, and while I was hopeful, a girl can never be sure of anything until she is throwing away the holly paper and tinsel ribbon the next morning.

My mother is more reasonable than Mrs. Gillman, or perhaps it is the mellowing influence of four daughters; anyway she had allowed me to use my own judgment about a gift for Brose. I selected a perfectly super pen and pencil set, which will be very useful when Brose goes to university next year, and will serve to remind him of me as I am definitely figuring on some proms and football games.

Dinner on Christmas Eve is practically a waste of turkey in our house. No one ate much except Mother and Dad. Alicia was all jittery and could scarcely wait because Adam was due, via the window, at seven-thirty. I think Janet had been weeping, because her nose isn’t usually red, and I suppose it is sad to be away from your loved one on Christmas. But Toots and Midge were perfectly radiant and could scarcely eat even their dessert, which is very unusual indeed. They had been told that if they were very, very good it was just possible that Santa might come before they went to bed. In spite of a few normal lapses, like Toots short-circuiting the tree lights and getting a minor shock, and Midge stepping through the tree stand in a vain effort to reach the silver angel on top, they had done very well—for them.

Of course, all the rest of us knew that no matter what they did Santa would appear at seven-thirty, because Alicia had given him all sorts of instructions on promptness, and the ladder had been placed under the window since five o’clock and all our presents were in a bag, made out of our old red drapes, and hidden in the hall closet, so there was no doubt about his arrival, whatever. Brose wouldn’t be over until later, because Adam had absolutely put his foot down and announced that if anyone other than the family was going to be there he, for one, would not!

AT SEVEN-THIRTY we adjourned to the library and turned out all the lights except those on the tree. Even I had to admit that it was awfully exciting and sort of moving and we kept telling the children, “Shhh, now,” and, “Santa may be here any minute.” They were absolutely thrilled silent, which is something for Midge and Toots.

And then there came a soft, mysterious tapping on the window and the two children jumped and I felt a little startled because, although I knew all the inner workings of the plan, it was certainly most effectively carried out. Dad opened the window and Santa came in and I must admit Adam made a very creditable figure in red velvet and white whiskers. Alicia had sneaked out into the hall while he was getting the presents and had rouged his cheeks and the end of his nose and straightened his tummy for him.

He proceeded to distribute the gifts, saying, “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas,” in a very gruff and Santa Claus-ish voice, and playing his part with fine fervor. Toots and Midge were petrified, even forgetting their gifts, and they stood and regarded Adam with their eyes and mouths open and blinked when he patted them in a fatherly manner.

So then Adam went over to the window and with a last hearty wave prepared to depart; but at this point the original plan started being modified in a very decided and unforeseen manner. Santa swung his legs over the window sill onto the top of the ladder and suddenly the most peculiar expression broke over what was visible of his face above his whiskers and he began frantically to wave his arms about in circles and to yell, and then he disappeared.

Alicia ran toward the window and we all crowded after her, with the exception of Midge and Toots who had discovered their gifts by this time and were callously unconcerned over what happened to Santa Claus.

But we, who were at the window, were getting a very surprising eyeful, to wit; the cause of Adam’s abrupt disappearance had been because the ladder seemed to have upset because there was someone else occupying it at the moment of Adam’s attempted departure. And now this someone was apparently all tangled up with Adam in the snow below. Alicia, observing this, started suddenly to yell and when Alicia puts her mind on it she can yell in a most piercing and upsetting manner.

Whether Alicia’s yelling confused Adam still more, or whether the fall had knocked his innate intelligence out of him along with his breath, or whether, as seems most likely, it is just that the basic instinct of the male moves him, under such circumstances, to start fighting, we will never know. Anyway that is what Adam started doing and this seemed to infuriate the person who was all tangled up with him and who had until now seemed fairly quiescent, and he started fighting, too.

This made Alicia scream still harder and now, as though there wasn’t enough to bear without that, Janet suddenly started screaming, too, and I discovered to my intense surprise that Janet, who is externally a fairly placid person, can yell even louder than Alicia.

Dad sprinted for the front door, and Midge and Toots, intrigued with all the noise, began to evince some interest in what was going on outside; but they were too small and puny to make any impression on the group of female Heydons around the window, when they tried to get through, so they went back to the tree and started fighting pleasurably over their toys. Down below the battle seemed to be getting really under way, what with snow flying and the stranger getting his mouth full of whiskers and Adam’s pillow falling out completely and the stranger’s hat rolling off.

And now Janet began to get faintly articulate and she pounded Alicia on the back and shrieked, “Stop him, somebody! He’ll kill him!”

Alicia wailed between belligerence and tears, “Who’ll kill whom? Adam! Adam, can you hear me?”

“Your poor sap, you mean,” Janet yelled. “Adam, stop it! It’s Jimmy.” And Alicia yelled, “Then make Jimmy stop!” and for a minute it looked as though Janet and Alicia would really get into the spirit of the thing and start still another fight, but just then there was a sound of furious honking on the drive and a squeal of brakes and the Edgewood Police Car skidded to a halt. By this time Dad had got there and was trying to pull the two struggling figures apart and two policemen joined him with—my heart leaped—none other than Brose, who had evidently been hanging on the running board.

WELL, that was practically the beginning of the end because between Dad and Brose and the police they got Adam and Jimmy pulled far enough apart so they could get a good look at each other.

So then Jimmy sort of grinned through his cut lip and said, “Well, Santa Claus, as I live and breathe! I took you for a burglar.”

Adam said, “What were you doing on that ladder, you idiot? I could have broken my neck!”

And Brose said, sort of weakly, “Well, blow me down! Are you—you aren’t Janet’s husband, I hope?”

Eventually it was all explained. Jimmy, who had arrived unexpectedly from Labrador as a Christmas surprise for his family, had seen Adam’s ladder and thought it looked suspicious. So he climbed up stealthily to see what was what and the next thing he knew somebody, whom he took for an escaping housebreaker, landed on top of him. Adam, apparently, was too mad to think at all when somebody made that ladder upset. And Brose having seen Jimmy at the moment when Jimmy was sneaking over to the ladder to investigate had immediately thought the worst and gone to the police.

So that was that; and when it was all perfectly clear and everybody was happy again Alicia took Adam out into the kitchen and put beefsteak on his eye and Janet took Jimmy into the living room where they started kissing and making up for lost time. Dad took the police around to the front door and gave them a handful of his Christmas cigars, and Mother took Toots and Midge up to bed over their fervent protests and they would only go when she permitted Toots to take his train to bed and Midge her ice skates.

So then Brose and I sat on the stairs and I gave him his pen and pencil set, and he was very thrilled indeed and said he would remember me at university anyway, but it was very sweet of me and would I come to all the proms and games and anything else in the way of social activity that might develop? And he gave me Ramona and I unwrapped it with my heart palpitating. In the box with the book was a bottle of My Sin perfume and a lipstick, which is a much more vivid shade of red than Janet’s and she can keep hers, after this, for all I care.

It seemed the least I could do under the circumstances was to kiss him and he is very nice indeed to kiss, and it is a wonder with all the examples I see around my own home that I do not go in for this form of amusement still more than I do.

And now comes the saddest part of this whole story.

In English class today Miss Mills casually mentioned that she will correct these stories of our own experiences before she sends them to her very dear friend in Winnipeg. And so all this effort is wasted. If she thinks I would let her correct any story as personal as this one of mine, she is nuts and I will write one concerning my trip to Montreal last summer instead!