How did you feel when you first learned there wasn’t a Santa Claus?
I can remember the time as clearly as anything in my childhood. A neighbor girl who was a year older than me blurted it out one day as we skipped rope down the block. “There isn’t really a Santa Claus, you know-oh,” she singsong-ed. “There is too,” I said as I skipped a beat. “No there isn’t,” she insisted, stopping and turning around. “Ask your mother.”
Cymbals clashed. Lightning struck. The world spun.
Can it be true? Why would they lie?
That evening I stood in one corner of the dining room next to the telephone table, trying not to glance past the side wall which opened upon the “sun room” where the magical, tinseled tree would stand, grasping at my knuckles behind my back as my mother set the plates and silverware. Several times I started to speak and finally under the fear of eternal distress, I blurted out – “Sandra said there isn’t really a Santa Claus.” Mother’s initial silence and the stricken look on her face spelled the truth. She didn’t lie. I’ll give her credit for that. My mother sat down suddenly in the chair by my side and with a serious demeanor I had never seen before and after a brief silence, intoned words I can’t precisely remember. Something about fun and love and the “spirit of” and something more about being a “big girl now.”
That was the first and likely the most difficult disillusion.
There have naturally been others throughout the years. I am forever scarred by the time I shared a thrilling spiritual revelation about native Americans standing out in nature and raising their head and hands to God instead of going inside a man-made structure and bowing down, followed by the Sunday School teacher making me feel humiliated and confused. There was the shocking reality of seeing “Whites Only” signs on rest rooms and drinking fountains on a trip across the south, or the lies and secrets of some elected officials and my consternation that the world doesn’t always work in the best interest of our planet and it’s inhabitants. To name a few.
The latest disillusion occurred one morning this past week as I sat, as usual, in my comfy chair with a freshly ground dark roast cup of coffee, sharing the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune. We have a ritual. I pass him the Sports and the Variety (which he must read first so I will end up with the pleasure of two daily crosswords – the New York Times and a slightly less difficult but clever version). I take my time with the front section, local news and business, pausing over various international issues and commendable op-ed essays. It’s my favorite time of day. Traditional, languid, a time of sharing and togetherness before tackling the tasks and commitments ahead.
This day, however, I didn’t get past the reportage on the bottom of the third page. In a horrendous, heart-stopping and bitter awakening I read the following quote from 1890 – “The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are master of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; it’s better that they should die than live the miserable wretches that they are.” And then the writer followed it up after the slaughter of as many as 300 Sioux at Wounded Knee by demanding that the U.S. government “wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”
I am still reeling from the identity of this abhorrent racist, a beloved author who informed and enchanted my childhood every bit as much as Santa Claus. I read and reread his books and gathered my neighborhood pals to read the volumes to them. I transferred the love of his fictional world to my children, driving them to conventions that celebrated the author. Throughout his lifetime my son collected first editions, illustrated the tales and worked on a new manuscript that would enhance the long running story line. Recently I even named our new kitten after a character from the series.
How could you? A lifetime of dearly embraced touchstones about truth and reality, about what it means to seek wisdom or wish for courage or engage one’s heart of hearts and learn that, above all, there is no place like home. Dreaming over the rainbow will never be the same again. L. Frank Baum, for shame. You have been far more a disappointment than Santa.