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Saturday, December 24, 2016

When Santa Came Knocking at My Door

          We lived along the train line to Manhattan in Fairfield, Connecticut from 1981-1990.  Spencer caught the 6:52 each weekday morning, and the 5:02 out of Grand Central Station each evening.  He rose at 5:30 to dress,  left home at 6:15 to drive to the station, park, and buy a paper before boarding, and if the trains were on time, he was back in the driveway at about 6:30 that evening.  A long day for anyone in a suit and tie and one that was filled with the burden of performing well in the office and the added stress of public transportation schedules and serious weather conditions at least half the year.  When you live like that, you want home life to be as peace filled as possible. 
          We naturally looked forward to the holidays even knowing they could get complicated.  One year we invited my parents to come for Christmas.  They were excited to see the children and to see New England decorated in the style of Norman Rockwell/Christmas card fame.  It truly is beautiful. 
There's no place like home
for the holidays
          Mother came prepared to help in the kitchen, of course, but besides the main Christmas dinner there were regular meals to be prepared, gifts still to be wrapped, last minute things to purchase, and other company--old friends we'd known in Texas, who had transferred north shortly before we did.  We thought my parents would enjoy seeing them again and meeting their growing family, three boys, ages one, three, and five,  so we invited them over to share a little supper and some "holiday cheer" a couple of days before Christmas.  

          Everything seemed to go wrong that day.
  I ran out of things I needed for recipes and had to make an extra trip to the store.  Living where we did, this ate up 45 precious minutes to get what one needed.  Mother's purse was stolen from the grocery cart when she wasn't looking and panic to get credit cards canceled, airline tickets replaced, ensued until we felt we'd done all we could do.  The tiny kitchen in the center of our house looked like a war zone with all the chopping and stirring and mixing that needed to be done.  The dishwasher hummed the whole time of preparation, but the pile of pots and pans and bowls and utensils in the sink continued to mount, try as we did to keep things under control. 
There was a counter in here
somewhere last time I looked

          When the guests arrived, their baby was crying and could not be consoled.  The middle child fell asleep in the car and needed to be put down for a nap.  We had no crib set up at this stage and my parents' things were all over the children's rooms where they were staying, but space was made for the sleepy toddler, who found comfort in a pillow and warm blanket, not caring one minute about the disarray of his surroundings.  The oldest got on with playing with our two in front of the Nintendo in the family room.  More packages were brought in, more coats were crammed into the bulging front hall closet, wet boots and mittens were dropped off by the back door and the sound of ice cubes rattling could be heard as requests for cocktails were filled in the middle of our small kitchen--the not so grand, Grand Central Station of our house.  The phone rang, the timer on the meat went off, and if we'd had a dog, he would, at that same moment been chasing our cat, I have no doubt of it.  It was one of those moments when you wish you could click your heels and be in Kansas, or you think to yourself, "shoot me now", or CALGON!! take me away."  Exhaustion and overload had set in.  You've heard people say about their tantrum throwing kids, "Oh, he's just overtired."  Well, that was me, only when you are the mother, meltdowns are not allowed.  And neither is running away --- though the thought can be tempting. 

          Ever hear the phrase, "If Mamma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?"  Well, you can look at that two ways.  If Mamma ain't happy it's someone else's fault and it's up to THEM to correct their behavior so that she is, or if Mamma ain't happy, then her mood or frame of mind will affect everyone else's.  I sort of like to think the later is the best perspective.  Mothers can be the ones who put the jolly in everyone else's holiday, and if she isn't doing that, it can be a rather sad time.
          Nonetheless, the last thing I needed at that moment was for the doorbell to ring, but it did.  Spencer and I looked at each other and said, "WHAT NOW?"  Who rings the doorbell at this time of the day?  What kid thinks ours might want to play?  It's dinner time, for crying out loud!  One thing for sure, I thought, they are NOT coming inside, not today, not right now.  Surely, SURELY it's not the Jehovah's witnesses.   For THEIR sake, I hoped that.  I was in no mood to deal with anyone else, or anyone's issues, or anyone's needs, or anyone's crankiness. 
          I  said, "I have no earthly idea who that could be," and headed for the front door.  Because we were NOT expecting anyone, just about everyone there, with the exception of the children in the family room intent on the Nintendo game, turned eyes toward the foyer to see who it might be.  I opened the door and there stood Santa Claus.  He reared back and gave a big "Ho Ho Ho," as if he had not a care in this world.  Then he looked me in the eye and in a bold and confident voice said, "Meeeerry Christmas!"  (Easy enough for him to say.  I was unraveling and merry I was not.)
Meeerry Christmas!
          How many times had I told the children not to speak to strangers?  How many times had I told them, do NOT let anyone in the house you don't know, NO MATTER WHAT they say?  But, good grief,...I thought quickly, did my own admonitions  include Santa???  What if this were a robber?  What if he had a gun?? What if he was in costume to trick us??  What if he planned to tie us all up and kidnap the little ones?? 

          I turned to Spencer in the living room who stood there in total disbelief---assuming this was some part of my grand plans for added holiday entertainment.  Our friends, too, thought we had invited this person to thrill the children with a little treat.  And I'm thinking, oh dear, if Spencer was not the one who engaged this person to appear, and neither were our friends, then...who was this?  I looked back at the unexpected stranger on my doorstep and sighed.
          I said, "Santa!!  Please, won't you come in?  We are so happy to see you!" 
          I could not help notice what a fine red velvet suit he was wearing and how comfortable and worn were his black leather boots.  He had certainly not gotten that outfit at a local party store where the fabric is cheap and the tailoring leaves much to be desired.  Only Santa could have owned such as this and the twinkle in his eye and the sincerity in his voice vanished all my fear and previous anxiety way.  Who cared right then if the apple pie had boiled over in the bottom of the oven and was stinking up the house? 
          He stepped over the threshold and began to ask me how our holiday preparations were going.  He mentioned that Mrs. Claus was every bit as busy, doing her best to provide the elves with some treats for all their hard work.  He joked with my mother and welcomed her to Connecticut and cautioned her to keep warm and not slip on the ice, which could be troublesome to people not used to it.  And then he looked at Spencer and our friend and asked them how was their train ride this week?  Better than the last, he hoped, when there had been several delays. 
          Our unbelief had turned to trust and one of the adults rushed off to the family  room to gather up the children.  They abandoned the joy sticks and rushed to the front of the house for a peek at this man in the red suit, who was entertaining their parents with tales of the North Pole and a familiar recollection of so many details of their lives.   The calendar said otherwise, but this was "the night before Christmas," for real, unfolding in front of us in my living room.  We were all stopped dead in our tracks, knowing not who was behind the gold rimmed spectacles, but realizing he had brought the spirit of Christmas charity back into our lives.   He handed the children treats from his pack, calling them each by name, and said he could not stay, since there were others he hoped to visit before the night was over.   He wished us all the blessings of a happy Christmas and thanked us for our kind hospitality and a few minutes out of the cold. 
          A blessed calm came over me and the whole house when he left.  Frustration and short tempers vanished.  The dining room lights were dimmed, the candles were lit, the little ones were wrestled onto their booster seats, we bowed our heads and we prayed, "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts..........." 
Bless Us, O Lord and
these Thy gifts.......
          The gospel of Luke, chapter 10, tells us about a woman named Martha.  Filled with every good intention, she invited Jesus into her home along with his traveling companions and she set about to be as generous and as hospitable as she could.  No matter how sincere our intentions may be, when you offer an invitation the realities of the event can trip up even the most seasoned hostess.  Martha had invited Jesus because she longed for his company, yet when he was with her, it was her sister who sat at his feet listening to him talk, while she was busy in the kitchen with all the mundane tasks of preparing the meal.  At that minute she could not abandon her commitments to be with her guests, but she regretted the fact she was not enjoying herself the way she had imagined.  This was not the fault of those who had been invited.  It was her own fault for thinking she could be two places at once.  She wanted to blame her sister for not helping more, but it wasn't the sister who dreamed up this dinner, nor her responsibility to make it the talked about soirée of the town when it was over.

          Jesus answers her appeal for help, repeating her name in a loving and understanding way,  by letting her know we worry too much about the things that are not nearly as important as we allow ourselves to believe.  "One thing is needful," he tells her and that thing is the love we have for each other.  Too often that love is shoved aside because our own agenda, our own ambitions, our own pride gets in the way. 
          Luke 10:38  "Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me."  But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things;  one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.' "
          There is another Martha, familiar to us today who deserves mention here.  Martha Stewart, caterer, author, TV show host, magazine publisher, gardener, cook, seamstress, decorator, employer, and undeservedly, the brunt of far too many jokes.  Her vision, her tenacity, and her accomplishments are commendable.  She is a woman who has inspired thousands of people with her ideas and frustrated just as many or more with her quest for perfection.  Everything in her life is perfect!  (or so one is led to believe....)  Trying to emulate her standards can set you up for a lot of disappointment if you aren't careful.   It's fine to take hints from her ideas, but always, always, always, know your own limitations and avoid making more work for yourself than you are sure you can handle without snapping at your guests, resenting those who don't lend more aid, and leave you totally unable to spend happy relaxed time with the people you've invited to your table.   If you remember that, then, Mamma will be happy and so will everyone else.


  1. Did you ever find out who the eye-twinkling Santa was? I could use a surprise Santa at my house this year. (Sigh!)

  2. Yes. Eventually, we discovered he was a good friend of one of our neighbors with whom I played bridge and in the course of our table talk, she cleverly squeezed me for the info Santa would want to know about us and our friends. When he wasnt in his red suit, Santa himself rode the commuter train M-F.