Cordele Dispatch, Cordele, GA


December 12, 2012

The year Santa didn't come

Cordele —

“Grandma, hurry,” I heard Jenny yelling. I ran down the hall to the guest room to find my granddaughter Jenny in tears.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“What if Santa can’t find me tonight,” she said.

I held my grandbaby in my arms and assured her Santa always knows where we are.

“Go back to sleep. It’s Christmas eve. He’ll be here soon.” As I tucked her back in bed, memories of a Christmas Santa couldn’t find me and my brothers and sisters filled my mind.

My family of 8 children moved around a lot. My father came home sick from the war; he coughed a lot and couldn’t breathe very well. So finding a job was pretty hard for him, but he tried as long as he could.

We moved to a different town just until he got sick and lost the job, then we would move again. “It’s an adventure,” he would say as he loaded the truck.

As I write this story those memories flood my mind. It was Christmas eve and Santa was on his way. It was no time for an adventure.

The special, but awful Christmas happened in 1966. We had packed a truck and were on the way somewhere. It was getting late, so Daddy decided to find shelter for the night.

He found a boarding house and tried to get a room.  The only boarding house in that small South Georgia town didn’t have a room for us to stay in. I felt like baby Jesus! No room for us either.

We would try to get to the next town. As we were driving, Daddy saw an old abandoned house on a dirt road and turned around to get to it. It was a small, old cottage, and there were trees growing in the porch and bushes everywhere, but Santa was coming. We had to hurry!

Daddy pushed through the bushes and grass making a path to the door for us. As we entered the house, birds flew around and out the door. The sun peeked in as the door opened wider to reveal the one room cottage. It was old, but there was a massive fireplace on one wall.

While the men went out to gather fire wood, Mother, the girls and I set about making that worn out cottage a home. When they returned with the wood, they had a scrawny little Christmas tree. A longleaf pine nothing like the ones you see today, but it was our family tree that year.

It was the best they could do so we had to make it work. We had just gotten out of school for the Christmas holiday, so construction paper and glue were plentiful.

The girls and I made garland while Mother made stars of David from the branches of the tree on the porch.

Thomas Kincaid could have painted a picture from it. It was perfect, and it was home. We stood back and looked at our tree. Sad little tree, it almost fell over from the weight of the paper garland. But Santa’s coming soon, it will have to do.

Mother had made a large pallet on the floor in front of the fire, and it was warm. We sat on the pallet as a family. Daddy told us the story about the birth of Baby Jesus. The anticipation was intense. It wouldn’t be long now before Santa would come.

A knock on the door interrupted our Christmas adventure; it was the county sheriff and some women with nice coats on. They told my father we couldn’t stay there. We would have to come spend the night at the jail.

“No,” I cried. “Santa will never find us there. We want to stay here.”

Daddy said, “we will leave first thing in the morning,” but they wouldn’t allow that, so Daddy decided we would move on and put us back in the truck.

The children all were in tears. I was 12, so I knew Santa would never find us now. We got to Mother’s family’s house just as Santa had left. They were opening their presents as my little brothers and sisters stood there and watched.

Mother and Daddy knew Santa wasn’t coming, but were too ashamed to tell us. How could you look into your children’s eyes and tell them that?

Children don’t understand about money problems. They don’t understand sickness. They only believed Santa just couldn’t find them.

I couldn’t bear their tears, so I went to the bedroom and cried my heart out. I asked God never to let me endure this again in my life.

Daddy passed on a few years later. I got married that year. My husband came from a poor family just as I had, so we agreed to a small family. We finished a job that had been too big for one sick man who tried all he could.

We helped Mother take care of my siblings, and Christmas has been better for us since then. I never tell my children this story. I never want them to wonder if Santa will be able to find them.

I think about that cottage every year and that scrubby little tree and how life has changed so much for me. The tree can hold lots of garland now.

I can’t help but wonder if Santa tried to find those eight little children who tried so hard to make a home just in time for Santa to find them.

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