Just about everyone we knew as kids celebrated St. Nicolas day but us. The leaving of small toys or treats in children’s shoes was not a tradition my dad had any interest in. If he or Mom were St. Nick recipients as wee ones, I can’t recall a single tale. Mom came from a fairly well-off background by comparison, but her father was a skinflint, who I highly doubt participated in the consuming side of Christmas any more than he was forced to. Dad’s family was dirt poor. Great-Grandaddy Christie lost the family farm in the bank crash after the first world war and Grandaddy and Gran were essentially the poor relations, who tenant farmed for years before winding up farming Gran’s family farm for first her father and then her sister. One Christmas, Dad and his four siblings got a single pair of skis which they took turns with until Uncle Leo ran into a pig and broke them. More than once I can recall Dad and his second oldest sister discussing how they each got an orange apiece in their stocking and that this was a rare treat. So, St. Nick? Not so much.
I may have put something in Dee’s shoe when she was two or three, but keeping track of holidays I didn’t grow up celebrating was not long on my list of necessities, so that good intention died before it had chance to take root. My sister, DNOS, however, has managed to instill the specialness of the day into N2 (Nephew2).
“But he slept over at Mom’s Saturday night and I forgot about it completely, ” she confided to me on the phone. “I hoped he would just forget about it, but nope, we were in the car on our way home from school and he wonders why St. Nick forgot him.”
“So what did you tell him?” I asked. DNOS is a great one for covering up parental faux-pas with stories that only an 8 year old could possibly believe. I admire that.
“I told him that St. Nick visits houses alphabetically and that he probably hadn’t gotten to the O’s yet.”
And N2 bought this as reasonable as any third grader would because “alphabetical” is how the world works.
After they got home from hockey practice later that evening, DNOS hustled N2 downstairs to strip him of his gear and pop him in the shower. According to my husband, hockey gear takes on an odor of its own and so, I imagine, does the child wearing the gear. As N2 showered, his father snuck upstairs and began stomping loudly about the living room. It’s a little house and BIL is a big guy, so let’s imagine timbers rattling.
“Mom,” N2 pops out of the shower, “There’s someone in the house!”
Eyes as big as saucers and shivering with chill and fear in his birthday suit, he began yelling for BIL.
“Dad! DAD! There’s an intruder upstairs.”
BIL has stealthily slipped back downstairs without notice and asks, “Are you sure, N2?”
“There’s an intruder!! Dad, get the gun!”
BIL hunts. He keeps his arsenal in a locked cabinet in the basement and he dutifully went for a shotgun and went upstairs to “look around”.
“Oh my god, Mom. There’s an intruder! And I’m naked!” N2 was literally beside himself with horror at this point and how DNOS and BIL live with the guilt is beyond me. They are great actors though and neither one cracked so much as a smile, let alone snickered.
“I didn’t see anything N2,” BIL reported when he returned.
“Get the soap out of my hair, Mom! I need to get dressed!”
A few minutes later, sans soap and pj’d, N2 charges ahead of his parents to the upstairs.
“Hey Buzz, nice of you to go first,” BIL calls after him and N2 freezes in mid-step.
“Mom, you go ahead of me and Dad you go ahead of Mom,” he said.
They crept through the kitchen and into the living room to find, not an intruder, but three St. Nick’d shoes. N2 took the contents out and distributed them and sat heavily on the rocker, clutching his small toy.
“Mom. Dad. I have to say this how I have to say this,” he said.
And they waited with bated breath.
“Dad, you almost frickin’ shot St. Nick! He’s Santa’s brother, and I wouldn’t have got anything this year if you’d killed him.”
And no, they didn’t laugh. They are that good.
*This tale is told with the permission of DNOS, who I am sure recognizes that I didn’t get it word for word as she told it because I am not the story-teller that she is.