You Have To Believe

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YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE

A CHRISTMAS STORY
a true story
by Jay Frankston

There's nothing so beautiful as
a child's dream of Santa Claus. I know,
I often had that dream. But I was Jewish 
and we didn't celebrate Christmas. It was
everyone else's holiday and I feltleft 
out . . . like a big party I wasn't invited
to. It wasn't the toys I missed,it was 
Santa Claus and a Christmas tree.
  So when I got married and had kids I 
decided to make up for it. I started with 
a seven-foot tree, all decked out with 
lights and tinsel, and a Star of David on 
top to soothe those whose Jewish feelings
were frayed by the display and, for them, 
it was a Hanukah bush. And it warmed my
heart to see the glitter, because now the 
party was at my  house and everyone  was 
invited.
   But something was missing, something 
big and round and jolly, with jingle 
bells and a ho! ho! ho! So I bought a bolt 
of bright red cloth and strips of white 
fur and my wife made me a costume. 
Inflatable pillows rounded out my skinny 
frame, but no amount of makeup could turn 
my face into merry old Santa.
 I went around looking at department store 
impersonations sitting on their thrones 
with children on their laps and flash-bulbs 
going off, and I wasn't satisfied with the 
way they looked either.
  After much effort I located a mask maker 
and he had just the thing for me, a 
rubberized Santa mask, complete with 
whiskers and flowing white hair. It was 
not the real thing but it looked genuine 
enough to live up to a child's dream of 
St. Nick.
  When I tried it on something happened. 
I looked in the mirror and there he was, 
big as life, the Santa of my childhood. There
he was  . . . and it was me. I felt like 
Santa, like I became Santa. My posture 
changed. I leaned back and pushed out my 
false stomach. My head tilted to the side 
and my voice got deeper and richer and a  
"MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE."
  For two years I played Santa for my 
children to their mixed feelings of fright 
and delight and to my total enjoyment. And 
when the third year rolled around, the 
Santa in me had grown into a personality 
of his own and he needed more room than I 
had given him. So I sought to accommodate him 
by letting him do his thing for other children. 
I called up orphanages and children's hospitals
and offered his services free. But, "We
 don't need Santa, we have all sorts of 
donations from foundations and . . .thank you 
for calling." And the Santa in me felt lonely 
and useless.
 Then, one late November afternoon, I went 
to the mailbox on the corner of the street 
to mail a letter and saw this pretty little 
girl trying to reach for the slot. She was 
maybe six years old. "Mommy, are you sure Santa
 will get my letter?" she asked. "Well, you 
addressed it to Santa Claus, North Pole, so 
he should get it," the mother said and lifted her
 little girl so she could stuff the letter into 
the box. My mind began to whirl. All those 
thousands of children who wrote to Santa 
Claus at Christmas time, whatever became 
of their letters?
 One phone call to the main post office 
answered my question. They told me that, 
as of the last week of November, an entire
 floor of the post office was needed to 
store those letters in huge sacks that came 
from different sections of the city.
 The Santa in me went ho! ho! ho! and we 
headed down to the post office. And there 
they were, thousands upon thousands of 
letters, with or without stamps, addressed 
to Santi Claus, or St. Nick, or Kris Kringle,
scribbled on wrapping paper or neatly written
on pretty stationary.
 And I rummaged through them and laughed. 
Most of them were gimme, gimme, gimme 
letters, like "I want a pair of roller 
skates, and a Nintendo, and a GI Joe, and 
a personal computer, and a small portable 
TV, and whatever else you can think of." 
Many of them had the price alongside
each item . . . with or without sales tax.
 Then there were the funny ones like:
    "Dear Santa, I've
been a good boy all of last year, but if 
I don't get what I want, I'll be a bad
 boy all of next."
 And I became a little flustered at the 
demands and the greed of so many spoiled 
children. But the Santa in me heard a 
voice from inside the mail sack and I 
continued going through the letters, one 
after the other, until I came upon one 
which jarred and unsettled me.
 It was neatly written on plain white 
paper and it said:
 "Dear Santa, I hope you get my letter. I 
am eleven years old and I have two little 
brothers and a baby sister. My father died 
last year and my mother is sick. I know there 
are many who are poorer than we are and I 
want nothing for myself, but could you 
send us a blanket, cause mommy's cold at
night." It was signed Suzy.
 And a chill went up my spine and the Santa
in me cried, "I hear you Suzy, I hear you." 
And I dug deeper into those sacks and came up
with another eight such letters, all of them 
calling out from the depth of poverty. I took 
them with me and went straight to the nearest
 Western Union office and sent each child a 
telegram:      "GOT YOUR LETTER. WILL BE AT
YOUR HOUSE ON CHRISTMAS  DAY. WAIT FOR ME.
 SANTA."
  I knew I could not possibly fill the need 
of all those children and it wasn't my 
purpose to do so. But if I could bring them 
hope. If I could make them feel that their 
cries did not go unheard and that someone 
out there was listening . . . So I budgeted 
a sum of money and went out and bought toys. 
I wasn't content with the five-and-ten cent 
variety. I wanted something substantial, 
something these children could only dream of,
 like an electric train, or a microscope, or 
a huge doll of the kind they saw advertised on 
TV.
 And on Christmas Day I took out my sleigh and 
let Santa do his thing. Well, it wasn't exactly 
a sleigh, it was a car and my wife drove
 me around because with all those pillows and 
toys I barely managed to get in the back seat. 
It had graciously snowed the night before and 
the streets were thick with fresh powder.
 My first call took me to the outskirts of the 
city. The letter had been from a Peter Barsky 
and all it said was: "Dear Santa, I am ten 
years old and I am an only child. We've just 
moved to this house a few months ago and I have 
no friends yet. I'm not sad because I'm poor but
because I'm lonely. I know you have many things 
to do and people to see and you probably have no 
time for me. So I don't ask you to come to my 
house or bring anything. But could you send me 
a letter so I know you exist." My telegram read: 
"DEAR PETER, NOT ONLY DO I EXIST BUT I'LL BE THERE 
ON CHRISTMAS DAY. WAIT  FOR ME. SANTA."
  We spotted the house and drove past it and 
parked around the corner. Then Santa got out 
with his big bag of toys slung over his shoulder and 
tramped through the snow.
 The house was wedged in between two tall 
buildings. The roof was of corrugated metal and it 
was more of a shack than a house. I walked through 
the gate, up the front steps and rang the bell. 
A man opened the door. He was in his undershirt 
and his stomach bulged out of his pants.
 "Boje moy " he exclaimed in astonishment. 
That's Polish, by the way, and his hand went 
to his face. "P-p-please . . ." he stuttered, 
"p-please . . .de boy . . . de boy . . . at mass 
. . . church. I go get him. Please, please wait."
 And he threw a coat over his bare shoulders and,
assured that I would wait, he ran down the 
street in the snow.
 So I stood in front of the house feeling good, 
and on the opposite side of the street was 
this other shack, and through the window I
could see these shiny little black faces 
peering at me and waving. Then the door 
opened shyly and some voices called out 
to me "Hya Santa" . . . "Hya
Santa".
 And I ho! ho! hoed my way over there and 
this woman asked if I would come in and 
I did. And there were these five young 
kids from one to seven years old. And I
sat and spoke to them of Santa and the 
spirit of love which is the spirit of 
Christmas.
 Then, since they were not on my list, 
but assuming from the torn Christmas 
wrappings that they had gotten their 
presents, I asked if they liked what 
Santa had brought them during the night.
And each in turn thanked me for . . . 
the woolen socks, and the sweater, and the
warm new underwear.
 And I looked at them and asked: "Didn't 
I bring you kids any toys?"  And they 
shook their heads sadly. "Ho! ho! ho! 
I slipped up," I said "We'll have to 
fix that." I told them to wait, I'd be 
back in a few minutes, then trudged 
heavily through the snow to the corner. 
And when I was out of their sight, 
I ran as fast as I could to the car. 
We had extra toys in the trunk and 
my wife quickly filled up the bag, 
and I trodded back to the house and 
gave each child a brand new toy. There 
was joy and laughter and the woman 
asked if she could take a picture 
of Santa with the kids and I said, 
sure, why not?
 And when Santa got ready to leave, 
I noticed that this five-year-old little 
girl was crying. She was as cute as 
a button. I bent down and asked her 
"What's the matter, child?" And she 
sobbed, "Oh! Santa, I'm so happy." 
And the tears rolled from my eyes 
under the rubber mask.
 As I stepped out on the street, 
"Pan, pan, proche . . .
 please come . . . come," I heard 
this man Barsky across the way. And 
Santa crossed and walked into the house. 
The boy Peter just stood there and
looked at me. "You came," he said. 
"I wrote and . . . you came". He turned 
to his parents. "I wrote . . . and he 
came." And he repeated it over and
over again. "I wrote . . . and he came." 
And when he recovered, I spoke with him 
about loneliness and friendship, and gave 
him a chemistry set, which seemed to be 
what he would go for, and a basketball. 
And he thanked me profusely. And his 
mother, a heavy-set Slavic-looking 
woman, asked something of her husband 
in Polish. My parents were Polish so I 
speak a little and understand a lot. "From 
the North Pole," I said in Polish. She
looked at me in astonishment. "You speak 
Polish?" she asked. "Of course," I said. 
"Santa speaks all languages." And I left 
them in joy and wonder.
  And I did this for twelve years, going 
through the letters to Santa at the post 
office, listening for the cries of children 
muffled in unopened envelopes.
  In time I learned all that Santa has to 
know to handle any situation. Like the big 
kid who would stop Santa on the street and ask:
 "Hey, Santa, where's your sleigh?" And I'd 
say, "How old are you son?" And he'd say, 
"Thirteen." And I'd say, "Well, you're a big 
fellow and you ought to know better. Santa 
used to come in a sleigh many years ago, 
but these are modern times. I come in a 
car now." And I'd hop in the back seat and 
my wife would drive off.
 Or the kid who would look at me closely 
and come out with, "That's a mask," pointing 
a finger. And you never lie to children so I'd
 say, "Sure, son, of course. If everybody 
knew what Santa really looks like they'd 
bother me all year long and I couldn't get 
my things ready for Christmas."
 Or the mother who would whisper so her 
young son couldn't hear, "Where do you 
come from?" I'd turn to the child and 
say, "Your mom wants to know where I 
come from Willy." And he'd say, "From 
the North Pole, Mommy," with absolute 
certainty. And she'd nudge me and whisper, 
"You don't understand. Who sent you? I mean, 
how do you come to this  house?" I'd turn
to the boy and say, "Hey, Willy, your mom 
wants to know why I came to see you." And 
he'd say, "Cause I wrote him a letter, 
Mommy." And I'd pull out the letter and 
she knows she mailed it, and she's 
confused and bewildered and I'd 
leave her like that. 
 As time went on, the word got out about 
Santa Claus and me, and I insisted on 
anonymity, but toy manufacturers would 
send me huge cartons of toys as a 
contribution to the Christmas spirit. 
So I started with 18 or 20 children and 
wound up with 120, door to door, from 
one end of the city to the other, from 
Christmas Eve through Christmas Day.
   And on my last call, a number of 
years ago, I knew there were four 
children in the family and I came 
prepared. The house was small and 
sparsely furnished. The kids had been 
waiting all day, staring at the
telegram and repeating to their 
skeptical mother,  "He'll come, Mommy,
he'll come." And as I rang the door bell 
the house lit up with joy and laughter 
and  "He's here . . . he's here!" And 
the door swings open and they all reach 
for my hands and hold on. "Hya, Santa . . . 
Hya, Santa. We just knew you'd come."  
 And these poor kids are all beaming with 
happiness. And I take each one of them on 
my lap and speak to them of rainbows and
snowflakes, and tell them stories of hope 
and waiting, and give them each a toy.
  And all the while there's this fifth child
standing in the corner, a cute little girl 
with blond hair and blue eyes. And when I'm 
through with the others, I turn to her and 
say: "You're not part of this family, are 
you?" And she shakes her head sadly and 
whispers, "No." "Come closer, child," I say, 
and she comes a little closer. "What's 
your name?" I ask. "Lisa." "How old 
are you?" "Seven." "Come, sit on my lap," 
and she hesitates but she comes over and 
I lift her up and sit her on my lap. "Did 
you get any toys for Christmas?" I ask.
"No," she says with puckered lips. So I 
take out this big beautiful doll and, "Here,
do you want this doll?" "No," she says. 
And she leans over to me and whispers 
in my ear, "I'm  Jewish." And I nudge her 
and whisper in her ear, "I'm Jewish too. Do 
you want this doll?" And she's grinning from 
ear to ear and nods with wanting and desire, 
and takes the doll and hugs it and runs out.
  It's been a long time since I last put on 
my Santa suit. But I feel that Santa has 
lived with me and given me a great deal of
happiness all those years. And now, when 
Christmas rolls around, he comes out of 
hiding long enough to say, "Ho! ho! ho! 
A Merry Christmas to you, my friend."
 And I say to you now, MERRY CHRISTMAS MY FRIENDS."
 
 
 "A Christmas Story" is published by the author
 and is available personally autographed
 in hard cover for $9.95 + S&H
 from WHOLE LOAF PUBLICATIONS
 41201 Airport Road,
 Little River, Ca. 95456
 (707) 937-0208  e-mail wlp@mcn.org
 web site at: http://www.mcn.org/a/wlp/christmas/
  


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