Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wedding Gift From Santa

(This post is for Marty Meehan. Thank you.)

1999. That was the year I wedged Santa Claus in between a gray military blanket and a stack of college textbooks marked "USED" on the top shelf of the living room closet in the first house we rented as newlyweds. It was December 26th, my husband's birthday, and he was working odd jobs after leaving a deplorable teaching position in Bedford Stuyvesant, NY. His salary was being held because of bureaucratic red tape. He could no longer wait to be paid and afford the commute. It was a dismal place to work, an overcrowded middle school where he taught English and gym on the fly in addition to social studies, (the area of his certification). He had no paper, no chalk and no experience. His scenic walk to the school from the train station included rotting dead cats in a gutter. (The idea that children have to live, and try to be educated, in such an environment is another story altogether.)

I wasn't really surprised when he came home from work one evening and told me he had quit. I was at the stove stirring noodles, and not at all shocked, but crying, nevertheless. Our rent was $800 a month back then, and I made $700 every two weeks working in a parochial school. We had student loans, combined single-life debt, utilities, you-name-it. It was beyond tight, and I was not used to sharing.

I took down my Christmas decorations the morning after the holiday, irritated by being financially pinched for the first time in my lucky little life. I got right into this paper mache Santa's face, whispering some expletives into his glue-encrusted ear plus: "There's no Santa, after all."

I could not believe it. ME, someone who LOVED CHRISTMAS, was suddenly "Scrooged" by a bad case of fear. I didn't know how long we could survive on my salary, and whatever temporary situation my husband got until a teaching position came along. He was working as an individual aid for a disabled boy in a local school district; he had no health insurance. He had to go to clinics for Veterans to receive prescriptions. Creditors were already starting to call us, since it was pretty inevitable that some of them had to wait to be paid.

Regardless of my faithless declaration, Santa's smug grin remained beneath the layers of blanket and books. I pulled his head out by the hat to check, twice, then push him into the pile until he was no longer visible. This falling out between Santa and I was not something I mentioned to anyone, but I hoped God saw it, because I was mad.

I'm what you might call an early bird. I did things on time before I had kids. I am dependable. The day my husband left his job was the first time I ever burned pasta. "How could you just quit like that?" You're married now!?" I said, exasperated by his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants personality, a quality that, ironically, I used to think was so cool. Then the water boiled over.

Although I talked fresh to Santa, I still had hope that God would help us through those rocky first months of marriage. I bet God knew that if I really was done with Saint Nicholas, he would have ended up in the trash can. In the closet, beneath the pile of stuff, Santa kept smiling, but I didn't have to look.

One day before the new year, the closet shelf collapsed and the phone rang while I was cleaning up the mess. When my husband hung up, he had a full teaching position with health benefits, thanks to a wonderful friend. I was standing there with the blanket in one hand, and my rejected Saint Nick in the other. I looked down at the paper Santa, shocked by the generous belated Christmas gift. In light of this surprise blessing, he was placed in a spot of honor until Easter 2000.

Looking back to that Christmas now, I'm amazed by how blessed we are. Despite the current grim national economic situation, we own a home and can save each month for the first time ever. Every Christmas when I put that Saint Nicholas on the table, I think of the day I told him off, and secretly thank God for not giving up on us.


Putz said...

i wish you could tell my wife now that we are in a position to my obit about when i die i will be partying and wifeee will be shopping

Putz said...

this is just a wild speculative guess, but are you an italian catholic girl????????my wife's maiden name is desimone from the vineyards of agnone, canpassiono...full itailan, dad and mom came over in 1931 to work in the mines of anaconda

Loren Christie said...

My mother is full Italian background. My father is Scottish, German, Irish, maybe one French person thrown in for good measure ...a true American mutt. So yes, I'm a Catholic American Girl with a heavy Italian influence. My mother's ancestors were Southern Italian.

What's your genetic make-up, Putz?

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

I'm a Catholic American mutt with a good portion of Italian as well. This is a great story - even better because it rings true.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Loren, there is a Santa Claus...


The Koala Bear Writer said...

Great story! You should get this one published. (Have I said that before? Okay--I know it's easier said than done, but really... I think it's good!)

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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