The old man pushed mightily, before the large, heavy door finally opened with a loud squeak. Sighing wearily, using the scythe he carried as a walking stick, he shuffled across the room to the receptionist.
Smiling brightly, the woman adjusted her nodest jacket before announcing, “Welcome to Earth’s Human Relations Office, Mister 2022. Saint Peter will be ready to conduct your exit interview as soon as he is finished advising young Mister 2023. Mister 2023 will be taking over your job after your exit interview at the stroke of midnight.”
Sinking with a plop onto one of the waiting room chairs, the old man pulled out his cell phone and checked the 2022 events tracker app. He shook his head in disgust. People all over the world were drinking and acting crazily because the old year was ending and the new year beginning in just one hour.
The office door next to the receptionist desk opened. A young, rosy-cheeked lad skipped across the room to stand in front of the old man. The youngster exclaimed, “Hiya gramps! I’m taking over in one hour!”
The old man nodded and answered slowly, “Yup. I wish you all the luck in the world. You will need it.” Adjusting the 2022 events tracker app to the year 2023, the old man handed the cell phone to the young boy and advised, “You’re going to need this.”
A pile of old newspapers stacked on the floor in front of our large living room window nearly caused me to fall. I was eager to see if it had started to snow yet. There was no change in the overcast December afternoon weather. Everything looked just as it had, when I came in from playing in the yard before our noon meal.
A proper Christmas snow needed to be deep. We had snow on the lawn and flowerbeds, but I didn’t think it was deep enough. There were bare spots here and there in the yard. Christmas was in only ten days. I ruefully speculated, “If there’s any snow in those clouds, it’s refusing to fall.”
At ten years of age, I didn’t believe in Santa Clause anymore, but I did want Christmas to be perfect. Glowing memories of past Christmases guided my fevered holiday expectations. Trying to sled on the sparse snow on the barn hill in the forenoon had been disheartening. Feeling restless, I decided to go outside, but not to play in the scant snow again. I wanted to spend time in the barn instead.
Leaving the living room, I crossed the hallway on my way to the entryway. My coat and boots were kept there when I wasn’t using them. A loud scream startled me. My sister was on her knees scrubbing the floor in the kitchen. Her face was red with exasperation. She snarled, “Were you born in a barn? You’re walking on my freshly washed floor!”
Glancing around, I noticed the linoleum underfoot was indeed damp. I volunteered, “My feet are clean.”
My sister screeched, “I don’t care if your feet are clean. You’re leaving footprints!”
Mom put down the spoon she was using to stir soup, and turned away from the stove. She instructed me and my sisters, “Tonight’s the eve of Saint Nicolas. After supper I want you to write your letters to Santa Claus.”
My sister Mary volunteered, “Kathy’s in first grade. She doesn’t know how to write yet, so I’ll write her letter for her.”
Although I was still too young to write my own letter to Santa Claus, I knew December 6th was the official start to the annual Christmas count-down. At bedtime we would put our letters to Santa in bowls at the place we always sat at the table. In the morning, the letters would be gone and we’d find the bowls filled with peanuts, angel food candy, bridge mix, candy canes and an orange.
For me, time dragged by too slowly between Saint Nicolas Eve and Christmas. I fretted and fussed. I wanted the tree up. I wanted to constantly hear Christmas songs. I wanted fun, Christmassy things to do. Most of all, I wanted to open a big pile of presents. The craving for all things Christmas was intense.
When I grew up in the 1950’s, Christmas was hardly mentioned before the first week of December. Luckily, my emotional agony didn’t start as early as Halloween as must be the case for children now, since stores promote Christmas sales two months in advance.
Mom rested in her upholstered rocking chair, reading a woman’s magazine. Our house was Sunday afternoon quiet. Curled up on the floor next to the living room heat register, I half-heartedly paged through an old Scrooge Mc Duck comic book. The dreary early December afternoon sky made the living room dark enough for us to have the lamps turned on.
Relaxed in his favorite chair, Daddy slowly examined family photos from the big box balanced on his lap. Some of our family pictures were funny. Like the one my brother Casper took one summer afternoon. He had come home from fishing with one small perch. Trying to make the fish appear huge, Casper hung it from a pole a few feet away from the camera and then had me stand a good 30 feet beyond, staring up as though looking at a whale-sized perch. The trick did make the fish appear large, but over exposure made the fish look like a white, blurry whale.
Feeling chilly, I cuddled closer to the heat vent. I heard my sisters Agnes and Rosie in the kitchen talk as they washed the noon meal dishes. I suspected they were planning to make fudge. My brother Billy was in the basement cracking open black walnuts. My other brother Casper was in his bedroom down the hall listening to a portable radio. I didn’t know what my sisters Betty and Mary were doing upstairs, but I wasn’t curious enough to leave my cozy spot to find out.
At four in the afternoon, Daddy left the house to feed the cows and Mom stopped reading to begin preparing our evening meal. While the cows ate, Daddy and the boys would return to the house to eat too. After eating, they’d go back to the barn to milk the cows.