Friday, November 25, 2011
In the foyer, the Christmas tree warmed the atmosphere with its Christmas lights and the soothing scent of pine. I sat next to it and memories poured over me, of our lounge room when I would curl up under the tree and stare up at the branches. The lights and decorations twinkled as I gazed at them, eagerly awaiting the morning; searching for the presents marked with my name. The warm summer night breeze drifted softly through the screen door, and the trees swayed gently outside in the balmy night air. Projections of Christmas Eve flickered in my mind: Santa in red flares and a red, felt overcoat; striding through the group of kids sitting cross-legged on the lounge-room floor. His white beard was not nearly as fluffy as the Santa at the shops – it was quite flat, like a white, wooly blanket. His nose was round and porous with feint scaring on the bridge. When he talked and chuckled, as he called out each gift receiver's name, his teeth looked long and broad, just like Nonna's teeth. One Christmas Eve, Santa stayed for a beer with my Uncles and Aunties. I called out for my father to come and meet Santa – but, as usual, my father was in the toilet with bad stomach pains and possibly 'the runs,' and so he couldn't come out. He was going to miss out on seeing Santa – again. My cousin Lucy and I approached Santa. Lucy, Shirley's daughter, is two years younger than me and stood about 6 inches shorter, with dark blonde hair cut into a dead-straight long fringe and jaw-length bob –identical to my dark brown bob at the time. Her cheeks were freckled and her lips always looked like she was wearing dark pink lipstick. We had short discussions with Santa previously, within the last few years. Well, not so much discussions – they were more like interrogations. The information collected so far was: 1. Santa parked his sleigh on the roof . 2. His reindeers stayed on the roof with the sleigh and did not want to be seen. (Sometimes they were shy and sometimes they were invisible). 3. Santa visited everyone's house in the world on Christmas Eve as well as deliver presents during the night – these great tasks were achieved by pure magic. 4. Even though he parked on the roof, he always arrived through my parent's bedroom door and into the lounge-room. If Christmas Eve was held at my Auntie's house, or Nonno and Nonna's, he would arrive through their bedroom door. This was an unquestioned, accepted fact. This Christmas Eve, Lucy and I were eager to find out why Santa was wearing brown slippers – 'Grosby' brand, just like my father's. Santa paused and stole a few side glances at the other adults at the dining room table. There was a wooden bowl brimming with beer nuts, a wooden platter shaped into a leaf holding an assortment of nuts, dried fruit and pretzels, two ashtrays and several glasses of beer and lemon squash set around their circle. It was the adults table. The kids sprawled over the lounge-room couches, carpet and into the hall; amongst baskets of chips, Barbeque Shapes and plastic cups of soft drink. Santa opened his mouth before any sound came out. "Well, my boots get pretty muddy…so Frank gave me a lend of his slippers, so I don't get mud all over the carpet." Lucy nodded in agreement and I smiled, overjoyed that my Dad had spoken to Santa and even gone so far as to lend him his slippers. Santa rapped his fingertips on the table top. He must have been fixing the sleigh today, because his fingernails had grease under them. Second to that, he was wearing a gold wedding ring… "Santa, why are you wearing my Dad's wedding ring?" I asked. Santa smiled. "He gave me his ring, just to hold it for him while he isn't feeling well." Lucy smiled and nodded. I frowned. I stared at Santa's hand, Dad's ring, his grease-stained finger nails, his strange-looking jacket and flat beard, his nose, his mouth. It may have been the 80s, but it certainly did look out of place for Santa to be smoking Camel cigarettes. This was no Santa. I understood that I shouldn't share this new knowledge with my little cousin Lucy, as she gazed in awe at this pretend Father Christmas. I suddenly realized that every adult knew, my sisters knew and all of my cousins who were older than me knew that this man in red flares and brown slippers was Frank Napolitano; otherwise currently known by my cousins as 'Zio Frank' or 'Zizi Frankie' and known by my sisters and I as 'Papá'. And that mysterious looking plastic bag that Nonna brought to every Christmas Eve was indeed her home-made creation for Santa to wear. At this point, this did not mean that Santa Claus, the man himself, did not exist. It simply made more sense to me that it was impossible for him to visit everyone, so fathers around the world dressed up as him to share the load; and the real Santa stuck to delivering presents for Christmas morning. For every Christmas Eve with my family, it had been my Dad dressed as Santa all along. I was so happy: the two bearers of presents and funny jokes had suddenly been fused into a grinning, brown-slipper king.