Sunday, December 18, 2022

Linda and the Unforgettable Event

It was a devastating moment in a child’s life—age eight. My guess is that Linda, who triggered the event, doesn’t have any recollection of what happened that December day in third grade. I do, though, and will never forget it, at least until dementia wipes it clear. It happened at the morning recess on the playground at St. Nicholas Girls' School. By the time recess was over, my life had changed, but I held everything inside until the dismissal bell rang.  

When school was out that afternoon in 1948, I got into the car, wet from running through the now pouring rain where my mom had parked in front of the school. I couldn’t keep it inside any longer. Mother didn’t even have time to greet me before I burst into tears.
“Linda called me a baby . . . and everyone on the playground laughed  . . and they called me a baby too,  because . . . because,” and here the sobs so overcame me so I couldn't finish the sentence. My mother started the car and pulled out onto 10th Avenue and headed the car south toward Madison St. where we'd turn east for home. She was quiet but I could tell she was listening.
I covered my eyes and tried to push the tears away, but they kept coming. The windshield wipers were echoing the chant: baby/baby/baby.  Mother remained silent, so I continued. “Because . . . because I believe in Santa Claus!” I finally blurted it out. “But they’re wrong, aren’t they? They’re wrong about Santa Claus! He’s real . . . I know he is. Daddy said he is and Daddy doesn’t lie. He’s real . . .  isn’t he?”
What felt like miles went by before she spoke.
“Oh, dear Sallie, forgive us for not telling you sooner, but . . ..”  There was a big pause here and looking back, I'm sure she was fighting back her own tears, “. . . but no. Linda was right, he isn't real. Daddy and I are  Sa. . ..”

I covered my ears to not hear the rest. Mother kept driving and I kept sobbing. At one point I looked up and saw the radio towers on Madison Street blinking above me. This didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be right. Just last year Daddy and I were listening on Christmas Eve and we heard  his bells! My tears kept gushing and the windshield wipers kept squeaking. Baby/baby/baby.
Once my father had told me he saw Santa in the sky. He knew more than even my mother did and lots and lots more than Linda did. How could this be? My mother was telling me Linda was right? that Linda knew more than my father? Baby/baby/baby. I cried all the way home and almost all the way to dinnertime.
If I were to meet Linda now, I hope I could be gracious to her. But remembering the person who took such glee in shattering her classmate’s belief in Santa would make it challenging to be genuinely interested in pursuing an adult friendship with her. It was bad enough having Santa Claus disappear from the real world, but being the target of the playground chant baby/baby/baby made it mortifying.  A visceral memory, for sure, and still evoked anytime I drive by the radio towers on Madison Street in Seattle. 

No comments: