There were no bell-ringing Santas on downtown Kingman sidewalks and none in stores. Santa Claus didn’t show up until early evening on Christmas Eve at the Elks Club.
The guy in the red suit and white beard stood at one end of the hall by a huge tree with lots of lights and decorations. Kids and parents entered the front doors and formed a line to chat with Santa. My sister was too shy to talk to him and hung back with Mother and Dad. My conversation with Santa Claus was brief because I figured by this late date what was done was indeed done. Nothing I said at that moment would influence what showed up under the tree in the morning.
We headed to the table where the Elks handed out Christmas stockings made of red netting to each child and took ours. The disappointment began on the way to the car when I opened the top of my stocking. The unshelled nuts were okay, especially the walnuts, but the orange and the ribbon hard candy were heartbreaking. What I would have given for one of our chocolates or a piece of fruitcake, but those goodies were all gone.
Bedtime was 8 o’clock for the little kids. I was five years older, so mine was at 8:30, giving me alone time with the gifts under the tree. But Mother announced she and Dad were going to bed and that I should, too. I felt cheated, even a little mad. I’d show them. When they went to bed, I’d sneak into the living room and hide behind the overstuffed chair. Then I could play with the presents all I wanted and maybe catch a glimpse of Santa making his deliveries. I’d discover how he really got in the house, probably through our front door because it wasn’t locked. We didn’t have a fireplace, just a single 220 space heater.
I waited a couple of minutes and tucked in behind the chair. When I woke up it was too dark in the room to see anything, not even the tree. Had Santa come and gone? I was too sleepy to investigate and dragged myself back to bed.
Gift previewing began before sunup. I crept into the living room and began to feel my way around. Couldn’t really see, but my fingers interpreted most soft lumps and hard things as probably mine. I went back to bed and waited for dawn, or for the little kids to wake up so I could direct their explorations and blame them for waking Mother and Dad. After several more single and accompanied trips to the tree, I called out, “Mother, come see what Santa brought us.”
Mother wandered out in her robe, turning on lights and bringing order to Christmas chaos. Then Dad appeared barefoot in Levis and a white t-shirt, wielding his new movie camera with a light bar as bright as the sun. All Dad’s Christmas movies featured smiling, red-faced, squinting children and his wife making silent joyful noises and go-away-don’t-film-me gestures.
Paper and ribbon heaped high, opened gifts spilling out of boxes, as laughter and happy chatter filled our little house. Then it was time to get dressed and arrange our gifts on our beds, while Mother started the turkey baking in the electric roaster oven.
We grabbed our gifts and hurried to the bedroom to get dressed, make our beds and lay our gifts out for all to admire. We had to make it fast because Dad was in the living room un-decorating the tree. That meant he would soon be gathering the mountain of paper, boxes and any presents left on the floor to haul out to the trash with the tree. We absolutely knew we lost great gifts in Dad’s Christmas Day decorations purge but couldn’t prove it.
Mother prepared Christmas dinner pretty much singlehandedly, and it made her a bit cranky. As I got older I was allowed to stuff celery with pimento cheese from a jar, slide jelled cranberry sauce onto a plate, put black olives on a relish tray and set the table.
There were seldom guests or other relatives invited, except for my grandmother who breezed in fifteen minutes before dinner was served at 2:00, dress to impress. She always looked and acted so regal, which encouraged our best table manners, such as they were. Granny probably thought she’d dined with coyote pups, as she breezed out the door shortly after pie.
Leftovers put away for later feasting, we girls would wash the dishes afterward, which I thought terribly unfair because Mother used every pan in the kitchen. After the kitchen was cleaned, we’d show off our gifts to Mom and Dad and play with each other’s new toys.
Another Rucker Christmas would slip into memory as we climbed into bed to dream of sand wash sledding, perfect Christmas trees and six Hershey bars.