‘Rose Bank’ was a wonderful Edwardian house, hedged in on three sides by farmers’ fields and a Wesleyan chapel across the street on the fourth. Deep country. Sturdy sandstone turned with age into an even sterner grey than the slate roof and built with little regard for insulation. In winter it was as cold as the grave which explains why there was a fireplace in each of the four bedrooms.
One Christmas Eve, one of the few nights when we would go to bed willingly, George and I were in our room but not yet in bed. When you are six and five respectively the excitement makes it hard to settle into sleep. We were by the fireplace; there was no fire going because it was a tradition that Santa always put the presents on the floor in front of the hearth in our bedroom. We were looking up the chimney when Dad came in.
“Dad, that’s a very small fireplace. How will Santa get through there?”
“He’s Santa. He can make himself small then big again. Now, come on boys, in bed. The sooner you’re asleep, the sooner he will come. What …What are boys grinning about?”
I was prepared to say nothing but George couldn’t contain himself.
“This year we’ll hear him coming, Dad!”
“Really? I doubt that. You both sleep like a log and Santa is very quiet.”
I thought I might as well get in on it. I pointed up the chimney and said,
“See Dad, there’s a metal thingy that comes down and blocks the chimney, so if we close it we’ll hear him when he lifts it up. We’ll pretend to be asleep.”
“Now why would you do that?”
“So we can see him.”
Dad just laughed. “What? With your eyes closed.”
“No, no Dad. We’ll make them little slits, he won’t notice.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, boys. He may not like it. Anyway, into bed, I’m turning out the light. Good night.”
“Good night, Dad,” we chorused angelically. We waited till his footsteps faded away, then hopped out of bed and closed the flue.
Next morning as we gradually revived each other, we both admitted to not having heard Santa after all. Then we made an awful discovery – no presents.
I still remember the sense of utter devastation, our foolishness and a rather sullen opinion of Santa. That quickly gave way to recrimination as each of us blamed the other for coming up with the stupid idea in the first place. All we could think about was that we would now have to wait a whole year – a lifetime! – before we would get Christmas presents again. There was also an unspoken fear we were in his bad books for ever. Oh the shame of having to admit that to friends and other people. We would be pariahs!
“Maybe Mom and Dad could help,” I suggested, “Buy us some presents.”
“I don’t think so,” said George, flatly. “Remember Dad told us not to do it the first place.”
Nevertheless we trundled into their bedroom, and like rueful penitents, delivered our tale of woe. They sat propped up in bed and listened without commenting. There didn’t seem to be much sympathy in evidence. When we stopped talking they looked at each other, sadly shaking their heads as if to ask how had they deserved such nitwits? Then Mom, in a tentative tone, suggested we might like to check the dining room just in case …on the off chance… We bolted downstairs, threw open the door, and of course, the table was covered with everything we had asked for.
I remember the only thing I uttered, surveying the scene, was “Phew!”
by Hugh Marchand