The summer before I turned 14 Back to the Future was released. I saw it in theaters a dozen times, maybe more, and one of the many things that I took away from the movie (in addition to developing a complicated theory about how time travel could work) was that I wanted a skateboard. I let it be known that this was what I wanted from Santa for Christmas, and that year Santa delivered in a way that only Santa could. He didn’t leave a skateboard under the tree for me to find. No, he left an envelope. Attached to the envelope was a piece of string, and inside was a note which gave cryptic instructions about finding yet another note. I went on a wild goose chase, around the house, into the trunk of the car, into the garage, over the back yard fence, back through the front of the house. And all these clues took me back into my own bathroom where, in my own shower, I found the skateboard that I wanted.
It was the Christmas I will never forget, not least because it was the year my brother recorded it all on our new video camera. But also because of that scavenger hunt. (It wasn’t until this moment that I realized that was also the last year my parents spent Christmas together. The following year my mother remarried and she would spend almost every Christmas thereafter with her husband and his kids who were older and had kids of their own.)
This year my daughter got a similar surprise from Santa in our Christmas tree. When all the presents had been opened, all the gifts unwrapped—all except a pile for my son who, at two, was simply overwhelmed by all the stuff; he’s still got presents to unwrap days later—I found stuck in the middle of the tree an envelope with her name on it. In past years Santa has always left a note for m, and in fact this year she kept up a rather lengthy correspondence with the big man. She sent him four different letters, not all of them lists, and he responded twice. One of the letters she was so excited about she took it to school.
This year, though, when she saw her stocking she seemed disappointed that there was no note from Santa. So when the envelope was found in the tree, she said, “Oh, there’s my note.” She opened it only to find a somewhat cryptic message.
Christmas is over, the presents are unwrapped
You play with your toys
There’s a cat on your lap
But there’s one more thing
Santa left it outside.
Put on your jacket
(Don’t forget your brother)
Check out the deck, your favorite swing.
On the deck she found another note:
You like to lay out here and swing.
For you it seems the swing’s the thing.
But when your parents say go outside
There’s another swing j likes to ride.
Which took her to the play set where hangs a blue toddler swing that j loves to be pushed in, and another note:
Glad to see you’re still on the trail.
Is your mother still with you?
She should stick to you like a tail.
Up, up, up, Jun says with a plea.
If you start pushing him now you might ne’er see
The most fabulous thing on the house I have seen
Are the lights you can see from the street.
Mommy was surprised to be mentioned in the note, and I told her she should probably follow the kid as she ran through the wet grass to the front porch where m found a porch swing and another note:
This one’s for mom, a place she can sit
On those warm summer nights
With a book and a kid,
When she’s not out enjoying the air of a forest
In the other big thing,
Big Tuna, of course.
Do you love to go camping in that little white trailer
Where you and your brother sleep cozy together?
“Did you make that?” M asked me. I shook my head and smiled. “It must have been Santa.”
“The trailer!” m shouted and she ran around the front of the house as Santa hoped she would. The boy did not want to come with her. He was too busy in the house playing with the trains set up on his new table to even notice that there were other presents waiting for him. Inside the trailer another envelope was found on the bed that m and j share when we camp. Also next to the trailer was a camping table, which again surprised M.
It’s here that you’ve had some good times with the fam
And hopefully there are a lot more to come.
But the trailer would be nothing without something to pull it.
That’s what Mr. Turtle is for.
Mr. Turtle is the name that m gave to my car years and years ago, a name that grew in importance when she named M’s car Mrs. Turtle after we bought it. Inside she found another envelope sitting on the steering wheel.
Read to Jun:
Your sister used to love playing in the car
She’d sit in the drivers seat for hours and push all the buttons
But the one button she never pushed
Was the one that opened the garage.
Santa imagined that m and j would both be in the car together at this point, but Santa can’t predict everything. She pressed the button that opened the garage door where she found, shining in the morning sun, a brand new bicycle. Sitting on the ground next to it was a skateboard. For a moment she seemed more excited about the skateboard than the bicycle (something I can relate to). Next to these were a tricycle and a three-wheeled scooter for j.
There was one more note:
Santa can perform lots of magic, you see.
Like making the kids hunt for their toys.
But one thing he can’t do, no matter how much he tries,
Is get the FAA to allow cars to fly.
She had wanted a flying car—that was the one thing she’d been saying for weeks she knew she was going to get for Christmas. “Because I asked Santa for it,” she would say. After she read the last note she asked, “What’s FAA?” And so I explained what the FAA was, and that Santa meant that he probably had a flying car in the North Pole, but that the FAA wouldn’t allow them to fly around quite yet. She smiled. “Oh, I get it,” she said. Then she bounded over to me. “Dad, I think I could play Clue now. Because I solved that mystery with only a few clues!”
For those out there who don’t believe, who think that Santa doesn’t have magic, I have a little girl in my house who will argue you point for point that you are wrong. She’s got seven little notes and one brand new bicycle to prove it. And there’s a big kid right here who will tell you that Christmas magic doesn’t go away when you get older or when you have kids. It only gets better.
Thanks for the memories, mom and dad.