101: Santa Knows Best

101: Santa Knows Best

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Santa Knows Best

To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.

~Abraham Lincoln

It was Christmas Eve and I could barely contain myself. Decked out in my new flannel pyjamas, I knew I looked my festive best and this was going to be the best Christmas ever. This was the year I would get a Mrs. Beasley doll. I had sent my letter to the North Pole with very specific requests, and Mrs. Beasley was at the top of the list. I had also given detailed instructions to the mall Santa when I had my annual photo shoot with him. I didn’t like waiting in line with other screaming children, and I wasn’t a particularly photogenic child, but I knew that the mall Santa, though merely a helper, had a direct line to the real Santa. Keeping my eye on the prize, I had endured wearing a purple velvet frock and sleeping with rollers in my hair so it would look fluffy in the photo.

Mrs. Beasley was a doll on a sitcom called Family Affair. Buffy, the impossibly cute little girl on the show, had a doll named Mrs. Beasley, with a plastic face and body, soft flaxen hair, a blue dress and wire glasses. She was atypical because she was an old lady rather than a cute baby doll. I was obsessed. Maybe I thought having my own Mrs. Beasley would make me cuter, like the pigtailed Buffy, rather than the gangly kid with a bowl cut that I was. I like to think that my attraction to Mrs. Beasley was because I was an old soul drawn to the wisdom that an old-lady-doll could impart. I was solitary and shy, more drawn to books than playing with the neighbourhood kids. Mrs. Beasley would be all the companionship I needed. She would be a confidant and give sage telepathic advice that I would decipher from her kindly, all knowing expression. One more fitful sleep and she would be under the tree, delivered by Santa at last.

It was a particularly cold December. The wind howled and rattled the windows as we listened to Christmas carols on the radio. The tree looked glorious, although the coloured lights were a trigger for my grandmother to declare, as she did every year, that Canadian Christmas trees were inferior to the trees from her childhood in Latvia. She disapproved of us opening presents on Christmas morning like Canadians instead of on Christmas Eve as they did in Europe. She would sulk on the couch, engulfed in the blue smoke of her Rothman’s cigarettes and inform us that Latvian Christmas trees were adorned with real candles, unlike the tacky coloured bulbs we had draped across our tree. Lest the evening become too cheerful, my grandmother would reminisce about a woman she knew whose tree had caught on fire from the candles. As the unfortunate woman attempted to carry the burning tree out of the house to extinguish it in a snow bank, the wind blew the flames onto her nightgown and set her on fire, creating a pine scented towering inferno. My grandmother’s story was an annual tradition, much like I imagined other families read Dickens or The Night Before Christmas.

After my grandmother stalked off to bed, my dad decided to light a fire. “Now when Santa comes down the chimney he is going to get all burnt up,” he quipped. He found this hilarious. I became hysterical. I was too young to realize that Santa would be prepared for such hazards. It wasn’t his first time dealing with chimneys, after all. All I could think was that we were the family that would send Santa to a fiery death, much like my grandmother’s tree hoisting acquaintance. How would I get Mrs. Beasley if Santa was reduced to ash?

Eventually I was reassured that the fire would die down long before Santa visited. I set out a plate of cookies and my dad added a bottle of beer instead of a glass of milk — we were Canadian after all. Dad threw a piece of sausage on the plate as well. “We don’t want Santa to become diabetic with all those cookies,” he said, which almost sent me into hysterics again. Santa could get diabetes? Maybe we should be leaving him a light salad instead. Obviously, I needed Mrs. Beasley. There were far too many anxieties in life to handle on my own.

A few hours later, I awoke with the house quiet and dark. I sensed that Santa had already visited, which meant Mrs. Beasley had arrived. I crept out of bed, my bare feet like icy blocks against the cold floor. Despite my tiptoeing, my mother heard me and appeared as I entered the living room. ‘It’s too early,” she whispered to me, “you should go back to bed.”

“I just need to see Mrs. Beasley,” I whispered, unable to wait a second longer. I looked at the tree and saw a doll that was not Mrs. Beasley. Instead of being plastic, she was a rag doll version with wool hair and a limp body. Her glasses were painted on rather than being real wire. I stopped in my tracks. This imposter was not the Mrs. Beasley I wanted. I had been very specific with my instructions. I had sent my letter and endured mall photos. I did not want to go near this shabby impersonator. My mother cleared her throat.

“I heard that the elves ran out of the other Mrs. Beasley, so Santa brought you this one who is very excited to meet you.” I tried to keep my face impassive as I stared at the crumpled doll, my fantasies of parading around with my glamorous doll shattered. I felt my mother shifting nervously at my side. I stared at the doll some more. I saw her painted face and frail body. She looked so hopeful and vulnerable. I imagined how excited she must have been to arrive with Santa, thinking that she was going to bring joy to a little girl on Christmas morning. I wondered if she felt self-conscious that she wasn’t as flashy as the true Mrs. Beasley. She probably felt like a bit of an awkward outsider with her floppy body and glasses. I knew how that felt. How could I be disappointed in something that wasn’t the shiniest or the prettiest, but still wanted to be loved?

I resolved then and there that I would love her with all my might. I rushed to her, hoping that the fake Mrs. Beasley couldn’t read minds and know that I had been ready to dismiss her. I squeezed her scrawny body and kissed her woolly hair. I heard my mom let out a sigh of relief. The rag doll Mrs. Beasley and I would be awkward, bespectacled best friends. We wouldn’t be the belles of the ball, but we didn’t need silky hair or plastic bodies to be special and worthy of love. I realized then that Santa knew better. He brought me what I truly needed, not what I thought I wanted. He really was a wise, all knowing elf.

I am so relieved we didn’t burn him to a crisp.

~Kristine Groskaufmanis

Toronto, Ontario

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