I believe

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Feature, Kitchen Table Talk

The signs are popping up everywhere, including my own home: I Believe.


It’s a sign of the season, and belief in the jolly ol’ elf is more of a statement of hope and optimism than a declaration of factual knowledge. Santa is the spirit of giving, the embodiment of a joyful happiness that takes us back to when it was no problem believing that a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer could travel the world in one night, delivering gifts to all.

With two of my three grandchildren under the age of 4, Santa’s spirit is strong this year. I do everything I can to keep that belief strong for them.

Helping children embrace Santa isn’t new in our family. Part of our family history includes the Christmas Miracle of 1987, a chaotic, yet carefully orchestrated Santa gift that kept Trey, then a new 8-year-old (he has a December birthday), embracing the I Believe mantra until he was almost 10.

Trey had developed a strong skepticism about Santa from listening to playground chatter. His brother, three and a half years younger, didn’t analyze things the way Trey did, but I knew if Trey stopped believing, Brett would not be far behind.

I tried to walk the thin line between truths and lies when answering his questions but had no problem leaning toward lies. I wanted at least one more year of that Christmas sparkle that gets just a little dimmer when kids give up looking at Santa with awe.

My best answer to his questions was always: “The gifts you get from Santa: Are they things your dad and I would buy for you?”

The answer to that was, “No,” because Santa always brought those toys Mom declared she didn’t like – skateboards, Transformers, WWF wrestling figures.

In 1987, however, Trey wanted only one thing for Christmas, and his little brother, true to form, had joined him in his passionate desire: a waterbed.

He threw down the gauntlet, and I stomped on it. “Don’t even bother putting it on your list,” I told him. “Santa can’t put waterbeds in your rooms without parental permission.”

And, in the tradition of “You’ll shoot your eye out,” I added: “The floor will cave in. Your rooms are upstairs, and waterbeds are too heavy.”

Behind the scenes, however, I wore down their father and was soon testing waterbeds at a Knoxville waterbed store and begging them for a Christmas Eve delivery.

The story of how we pulled off this Christmas gift from Santa is a 15-minute tale, if my husband tells it, and a 30-minute one if you want my version. The CliffsNotes synopsis is that, with help from Meg and John Retinger, our next-door neighbors, we got the boys out of the house for a special Christmas Eve brunch, met their father after we ate to go to Mamaw and Papaw’s house in Seymour for a Christmas Eve gathering, then came home late.

I made them put on their pajamas at their grandparents’ house and, as we pulled into the neighborhood, they began begging, as they did every year, to sleep downstairs in sleeping bags in hopes of catching Santa in the act. Much to their surprise, I relented, saying I was too tired to argue.

On Christmas Day, all the gifts under the tree had been opened, and everyone had declared it was a great Christmas when the boys finally went upstairs to their bedrooms to get dressed.

And screamed.

Beautiful waterbeds, one in each room, with big bows greeted them.

Had there been an Academy Award for Moms that year, I would have an Oscar on my mantel. I not only screamed in surprise when I saw the beds, but, after a few minutes, began asking all those questions I knew my analytical Trey would ask soon: “How did Santa do this? Do you think the floor is strong enough? Wait a minute! Where are my beds? If he took them to the North Pole …”

A quick trip to the basement by my husband confirmed that Santa had not stolen the beds but had put them neatly in the basement.

Those waterbeds bought us two more years of I Believe for my older son.

Best investment we ever made.

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