On Christmas, You Should Always Know Who You're Dealing With

Brace yourself, because they WILL eventually ask:  "Mommy, why does Santa smell like whiskey and old egg nog?"

You see, children are smart that way.  They notice things.

At some point in their young lives, they will begin to wonder how Santa appears 12 times within a three-mile radius. 

They will find it curious that Santa is "jolly" at the mall and emaciated on the street corner, his baggy, velveteen pants sagging to his boots.

They'll notice his beard is synthetic or askew on his face, or that his lisp is disturbingly similar to the choir director's. 

They'll see him take off in a Cadillac.

With each passing year, the doubts creep in.  I know I was only 16 or 17 when I started wondering if the ol' guy was real.

As parents, what do we say?  I am all for an open and honest response.

Tell your children, "Because that Santa is a big, fat fake!"

Explain to your kids that there is a real Santa, and they will know him when they see him.

Last weekend, he was spotted at Possum Run Greenhouse.

Santa was poised among the poinsettias and ficus trees, gently receiving children of all ages.  He was the perfect amount of jolly, with an authentic beard and the magical twinkle in his eyes.

"Santa," I asked, "Have you been reading my column?"

"Oh, yes," he replied, "I especially liked the one about the Thanksgiving ham."

He asked me, "Have you been good?"

"Of course I've been good," I said.  "You do remember my father?"

He reflected for just a moment.

"Ah, yes, you are the daughter of The Thumper."

Indeed, I am.  And to think it took only 50 years and 100 hours of therapy to say it out loud.

My father, a proud graduate of Ohio University, wore a class ring on his right hand.  It reflected his memories and accomplishments, a sense of belonging.

It was big and heavy, with a black onyx center stone, the perfect instrument to keep his children in line.  Any inclination of acting out, my brothers and I were privy to a thump on the head.

I guess you could call it a hard knock life.

One Christmas, my parents drove us to Pittsburgh to shop at Horne's Department Store.  We counted Santas on the way there; any sign of him in a yard, a window, or on your side of the street, granted you one point.

We also received the lecture about expected behavior when we got to Horne's.  The word was, "You may look, but don't touch."

Horne's displayed a wonderland of trees, with baskets of ornaments adorning their base.  It was an open invitation for touch, an irresistible temptation.

My father was disappointed to see his second son sorting through the ornaments, slinging them onto the floor as he dug for treasure.

No words were needed.  The Thumper did his deed.

A young boy, with a brush cut like every other boy in the 1960s, turned to face my father, a look of confusion in his eyes.

Or maybe that was neurological damage.

Whatever it was, it was a sign of distress.  And, whoever it was, it was not my brother.

The kid ran off to find his own parents, and my father, well, I think he probably ran off, too.

Which just goes to show you, you should always know who you are dealing with.

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