I had been on my best behavior for several days, hoping a long stretch of childhood perfection would erase any times I had been naughty.
With only a few hours before Santa Claus would be in my neighborhood to deliver toys and other gifts to good little boys and girls, I was in my bed, tossing and turning. There was a Christmas Eve nervousness flowing through me because of my concerns on how Santa would judge my conduct for the year.
I was about five years of age when my mother came in with a big book. It was "A Visit from St. Nicholas" or more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas." As I lay in my bed, Mother read it to me. Her alto voice was charming and soothing and she read it with great drama.
Although there were large and colorful drawings in the book, I imagined how Santa would visit me if, indeed, I could make the cut and be on the "nice" list he kept of boys and girls around the world.
When Mother finished the last line of the Clement Clarke Moore's poem—the one where Santa and his reindeer lift into the late-night sky as Santa bellows to the world below "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night"—I was left with another worry.
As I considered whether my conduct would be good enough for Santa to leave presents beneath our Christmas tree, I was now worried about how Santa would get into our home. The poem spoke of Santa's slipping from the rooftop and down the fireplace chimney.
From the fireplace hearth, Santa stepped into the room and begin spreading the gifts. That was in the poem. That was written in the big book Mother read. We had a chimney, but it went directly to our furnace. We had no big fireplace. Surely, Santa would not drop into our furnace and then wiggle his way out of it in the basement and then walk to our first-floor living room.
I expressed my concern to Mother.
She thought but just a second and then responded without a change in her voice.
"Oh, he will come through our front door," said Mother, noting my obvious nervousness.
"But the poem, the poem, 'The Night before Christmas,' " I said, not finishing my sentence.
Mother put her fingers to my quivering lips and told me to listen to her.
"Santa has a key to every little boy's and little girl's house in the world," said Mother, "and he can come in the front door." Mother continued with her explanation as she sat in the side of my bed and I looked at her with wide eyes. "And if he has trouble getting in the door, he will knock and awaken me or your dad," she said.
"Did you see Santa when he came last year?" I asked.
"Oh, sure," she answered. "He came in and I was still awake. He saw me and whispered, 'Is Leon asleep'? I nodded that you were under the covers of your bed."
"What did he say when you told him?" I asked, my mind picturing Santa Claus in my living room a year ago.
"He told me it was good you were asleep. He smiled at me and went right to work just like it says in the poem 'The Night Before Christmas,' " said Mother. There was a comforting smile on her face. "Don't worry if you have been a good boy, and I believe you have been mostly good this year, Santa will get into our house," she said with assurance.
She told me to not worry about chimney entrances. "Santa has a way to get into all the houses of good little boys and girls," said Mother.
I was relieved. I could almost hear sleigh bells ringing on our roof or in our yard. They weren't there yet, but I felt relieved they would soon come.
Mother laid the big book of "The Night Before Christmas" on the end of my bed. She closed its cover slowly and kissed me goodnight. She turned out the light in bedroom and closed the door fully, only to reopen it just a little bit so that a thin slice of hallway light seeped into my room.
I pulled the covers up around my neck and closed my eyes, dreaming of the moment Santa Claus would visit our house .... through the front door.
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