Santa’s Little Helpers
By Wendy Hughes
We all have memories of a special Christmas tucked away in our memory store, and I would like to share memories of Christmas 1958 with you. It was just a week before Christmas and snow began to fall, blanketing everything is a crisp sugary dusting. Both my mother and I got caught up in the magic of Christmas. Hand in hand we shopped together, and under her instructions bought the materials to make paper chains, Chinese lanterns, and decorations for the tree. You may recall from other articles that my mother was totally blind and she was determined we would have an enjoyable time, insisting that everything should be planned well in advance as endless lists were made and tasks crossed off.
At just eight years old, I still believed in Santa. I had heard rumours of his non-existence of course, but this was still very much the age of innocence, and the myth was kept alive by my mother’s enthusiasm with stories of conversations she had had with an army of Santa’s little elves and helpers. The morning before Christmas Eve mother greeted me with the news that Annabel, one of Santa’s little helpers had visited her early that morning and asked her if I could leave my stocking on the knob of my bedroom door and not on my bed. Apparently Santa had fallen in his Grotto and had hurt his leg badly, and didn’t want to do too much walking around all the bedrooms.
On Christmas Eve we prepared a plate of goodies for Santa, a glass of milk and a few sugar lumps for his reindeers, and I went to bed wondering what Santa would bring me. I was excited but those nagging rumour that Santa was not real kept me awake. Mother came up several times to see if I was asleep and each time she seemed a little more agitated. ‘He won’t come if you don’t go to sleep,’ she said, and begged me to close my eyes. I decided not to answer her on her next visit to my room, and heard her heave a sigh of relief as she found her way across the landing to her own room.
Minutes later she re-entered my bedroom carrying an apple, an orange and a few nuts. The curtains had not been fully closed and from the light from the street lamp outside, I had a perfect view. Mother knew exactly where to find my stocking, and gently placed an apple above the top of the stocking. It slipped neatly between stocking and door, and rolled round and round the polished floor for what seemed like an age before hitting the wardrobe in the corner of the room. Mother stood still then tried to place the orange in the stocking. PLOP! That too slipped to the floor. Then I heard the nuts fall and roll one by one until they hit the skirting board at the far end of the room.
By now I wanted to jump out of bed, tell mother I knew there was no Santa, give her a hug and help her find the items, BUT I was supposed to be asleep! Mother, on all fours, fumbled on the floor, but couldn’t find the objects. Undaunted, she left the room and returned with a fresh supply, a new penny, some chocolate money, and some small packed items. Eventually the stocking was filled.
A few minutes later mother returned with an armful of neatly packed gifts, and slowly carried them to the foot of the bed. Unfortunately, one of the walnuts was resting in her path, and as she placed her foot on it she began to rock backwards and forwards. As she desperately tried to keep her balance, I froze in horror. Should I get up and help, or stay silent? Whilst I agonised I watched as the top parcel began to slide and slowly slipped to the floor. Mother turned her sightless eyes towards me, and listened as I held my breath and bit my lip. Then each parcel glided to the floor until mother was left holding just one parcel. She released one hand from the remaining parcel and held onto the foot of my bed with the other, before collapsing in a heap on the floor. I wanted to get up and comfort her, then I heard her laugh, a tearful whimper at first, which quickly erupted into an uncontrollable chuckle. She put her hand to her mouth and tried to stifle the sounds. Finally she regained her composure, and on all fours began gathering up the presents, which she placed at the foot of the bed, left the room, and closed the door.
I said nothing on Christmas morning about the incident, and mother seemed genuinely delighted as I told her that Santa must have been very quiet, and had brought me just what I wanted.
The following year she insisted that I left my stocking downstairs on the settee, making the excuse that Santa’s little helpers had been in touch once more. Santa’s leg was no better, and this year he would find it impossible to climb the stairs. Although the myth of Santa had been shattered for me, I still let her think that I believed.
It was many, many years later – when I had children of my own – and complained at how long it took for them to get to sleep on Christmas Eve, that she shared this story with me. I confessed to my wakefulness and anxiety to help. She recalled her anger at not being able to fill the stocking, as she so wanted it to be a special Christmas, one I would remember.
Then as the parcels began to slide to the floor she became tearful, secretly wishing that Santa was real and that the little band of helpers she had invented would help her find the spilled contents of the stocking. She then saw an image of herself on all fours with a little group of elves dressed in red and green weaving their way around the furniture looking for the nuts, and began to laugh. She also revealed that it was not until the summer of the following year, whilst giving the bedroom a thorough cleaning, that she finally found the last of the nuts! It was a Christmas that I certainly will never forget.