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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

The man (and woman) behind Santa's sleigh

By Joey Hislop

December 15, 2006 | If you celebrate Christmas and you're old enough to legally operate a motor vehicle then you probably remember when you found out the crushing truth that Santa Claus isn't real. If by reading this you are just now discovering the truth for yourself -- I'm sorry. How did your parents do it?

Anyway, I can recall my experience vividly. I was either 10 or 11 years old and it had been a frustrating Christmas for my parents. They must have run out of hiding places for gifts or something because they began using the back of the van for that purpose. It was kinda sad to get into the van and have my mother tell us all "don't look in back." I would act like I didn't know what was going on. I guess I was in denial. I didn't want to come to grips with the idea that my folks were the ones who single-handedly pulled off Christmas every year.

That year my mother was also becoming more and more annoyed by the indecision that had crept into my wish list item elimination process. When she would ask me what I wanted, it was harder for me to narrow it down. This came as a result of years of not getting everything on my list. Even though I had yet to discover the man (and woman) behind the curtain, I had become wise to the fact that Santa never brought you everything you asked for. My poor mother. In the years after that my indecision only got worse. It was probably around Dec. 20th that year when I came up with a final decision.

But despite the huge pile of wrapped gifts behind the back seat and the fire that would appear in my mother's eyes every time I would give her an "I don't know," I still hadn't really put it all together. Like most other things in life, I had to be shown undisputable first-hand evidence in order to be convinced.

I remember it was the twilight hours of Christmas Eve and my bladder wouldn't let me rest. I had to go. I had resolved to risk a run-in with Santa. Besides, the bathroom was only a quick walk out my bedroom door. Turn left and -- boom -- you're there. However, you could see the entire upstairs hallway from the entrance to the bathroom and as I walked out to go back to sleep, I caught my mother in the middle of making what I knew had to be a present run.

In her arms was a pile of objects, mostly indecipherable under the wrapping paper. They were all wrapped with that thick, glossy white paper that Santa always used. I thought he must have had a contract with Weyerhaeuser or something. Every year presents from Santa were wrapped in that same stuff and signed by a woman who I was told to be "Mrs. Claus" whose handwriting was almost identical to that of my mother. Hmmm...

Anyway, I saw my mother and she saw me. But she didn't get mad. She gave me a look that seemed to say "Can't sleep, pumpkin'?" I thought I was in trouble for sure, but I was surprisingly mistaken. Then I saw my father doing the same thing: going from the living room to the basement in a hurried frenzy like he was getting the room ready for the home teachers.

I returned to my room a little sad. I thought to myself You mean to tell me that it's all a farce? missing completely the true meaning of what was now exposed to be a lie. I was more weighed down by guilt than anything. It was the kind of guilt that you get when you come to the realization that your existence makes some people's lives harder. Mom & Dad really are Santa Claus! They buy all the toys themselves.

I remembered how over the years mom and dad would make up ways to explain things to me. They had some pretty creative ideas, too. Everything from the classic "We tell Santa and he gets the toys for us" to "Well, Santa can't go to every house, so sometimes he sends stuff in the mail." Boy, they had me going!

But, as the saying goes: you can't fool all the people all the time. Not even kids. It was time to adjust my thinking. From then on I would have to adapt my Christmas list to fit what I thought mom and dad would go for. Santa was now out of the equation. I was dealing with real people, not some magical guy who lives in the uninhabitable frozen tundra of the polar ice caps and drives an airborne sleigh powered by wingless caribou.

I must admit that my mind was put a little at ease by my new discovery. Now I could stop trying to wrap my head around how Santa and his elves pull this off every year. How they can manufacture and distribute all this stuff across the globe in one night and do so without being seen or without violating what must've been thousands and thousands of patents on the toys they make (which happen to be identical to the ones found in stores). He buys all that stuff? Yeah, right! With what money? Is it government subsidized? All that didn't matter now. It was all a big fake.

The funny thing was that my parents didn't even try to tell me to go back to bed. Looking back on it now, they must've felt like I was old enough then to know the truth. Since then I have often wondered why we don't just tell kids the truth. Why don't we just tell them about that Saint Nicholas guy from Turkey back in the ump-teenth Century. You know who I'm talking about, right? The guy who saved that other guy's daughters from a life of prostitution by giving them some of his own inheritance so that they could fetch good husbands, or something? Wait, you're right. I can just see some little kindergartener asking his teacher, "What's pros-ter-tution?"

On second thought, some things are best sugarcoated.



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