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Twas the Night Before Christmas

Hindsight: Laura Hinds reflects on her life in Danvers.

As a lifetime member of the Chronic Insomniacs Club, I can probably tell more tales of what really goes on each Christmas Eve than many folks could.

My mother always said that I didn't sleep because I didn't want to miss anything. That may have been all right when I had the energy of childhood to get me through, but at this stage of life, I'd be ready to nominate Dr. Oz for Sainthood if he could find a way to get me to sleep. However, that's another story. 

My sleeplessness was always exacerbated by the holiday season. Christmas Eve was the worst; there were no visions of sugarplums doing the Cha-Cha in my head. I was wide-eyed and on alert. My Clausophobia (see ) peaked on Christmas Eve and wouldn't peter out until December 26.

Mom dutifully set out cookies and milk for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer. The aluminum Christmas tree in our living room was lit up with pastel strings of light and colorful ornaments. We didn’t have a chimney so the stockings were hung on the TV with care. As I look at this photo of our stockings now, I love that Dad’s was a blue argyle oversized sock and Mom’s looks as if it was a Victorian style pink boot. My sister’s is decorated so creatively that I’d think she made it herself (she is a very talented artist), except for that gold sticker that shows it was store bought (but I bet it didn’t say made in China.) Evidently, this photo was taken when I was a baby, because I have a tiny pink bootie sock with my name spelled wrong. It read Lori, instead of Laura, or even Laurie. There was always confusion about my name; my original birth announcement proclaimed that I was Jane Ellen Liscomb. However, I’ve wandered away from my Christmas Eve tale, so I’ll get back on track now.

The year was 1970. We lived on Pickering Street, and I was seven. It was a most peculiar Christmas Eve. After showing me that the stockings were hung and that the treats were on the kitchen table for Santa and Rudolph et al, Mom tucked me in and told me to go to sleep. She promised that when I woke up it would be Christmas morning and Santa would have brought me lots of presents. Just whom did she think she was talking to anyway? Didn’t she remember that I was not a good sleeper? Didn’t she remember that I was terrified of Santa Claus?  Why in the world did she think the thought of Santa creeping around our house would help me get to sleep any easier?

I heard my parents talking and watching television for quite awhile. Mom would peek into my room now and then and I’d shut my eyes really fast so she’d think I was asleep. Eventually, the flicker of the television light went off. The house became still and shadows lurked. I remember getting out of bed, putting my slippers on and looking out the window. I wasn’t sure how Santa would get into our house since we didn’t have a chimney, but I wasn’t about to take a chance that he would come through my window!

I double-checked that the window was locked. That was a ritual anyway, since for a couple of years I had a fear of a lion coming into my room through the window. I do not know where that particular phobia originated.  There were no signs of life outside. There was a howling wind and a few snow flurries I could see in the glow from the streetlights.  Now it was my turn to peek into my parent’s room and make sure they were asleep.  Dad’s snoring was a good sign, but it was hard to tell about Mom. I’d take my chances.

I tiptoed to the kitchen first. The milk and cookies had obviously been sampled, but the carrots were still there, intact. I heard a scrabble of little feet on the linoleum floor.  Perhaps a mouse or some other creature was stirring. I wasn’t about to stick around to find out.  I moved on, stealthily making my way to the living room. The tree lights were still on, and my cat, Charlie Brown, snoozed beneath the aluminum branches. There weren’t any presents! None! Had Santa Claus somehow snuck in and eaten the cookies and milk and failed to leave presents?

Sure, I’d been suspicious of this character from the first time I heard about him. Yet I never had been bereft of gifts any other Christmas. As I stood by the tree, about ready to have an epic meltdown, more noise came from the kitchen. It sounded more the scrabbling of dozens of little feet than that of a single mouse! Charlie Brown woke up and was gone like a shot. He ran through the swinging kitchen door and it swung back behind him.  I could hear quite a ruckus, it was verging on brouhaha, and I turned tail and ran back to my room as fast as my own little feet would move.

I pulled the covers up over my head, closed my eyes tight, and hoped that if an army of mice had moved into our kitchen, Charlie Brown would scare them away. It didn’t take long before the house was silent again. Charlie padded into my room and hopped up on the bed. As he came to snuggle, I checked to see if he had mouse-breath. Thankfully, he did not. Instead, his breath smelled like cookies, with a trace of milk.

I wanted to sleep. Truly I did. I just couldn’t. I summoned my courage and decided to venture into the living room again. I’d forgotten to take my fuzzy pink slippers off though, and nearly broke myself as I scrambled to get up. There was a strange glow coming from the living room! As I turned the corner and peeked into the room, I saw the tree was still lit up. Now, however, there were presents, oodles of presents!

Then I heard a sound, and looked just in time to see the swinging door going back and forth at a rapid pace. Was that laughter I heard? Yes, it was!  The secret I’m about to tell you may never have been told before. Santa didn’t say “Ho-Ho-Ho” at all. His laugh was more of a guffaw, with a loud snort at the end. The sound of his laughter echoed into the dark night as the jolly old elf skedaddled.

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