It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m looking for Santa. Not the jolly elf in red pajamas, my Santa is a six-inch tall ceramic bank. He’s just like the one my mom had, the one she saved quarters in all year to have money for Christmas. Mine doesn’t have quarters. It came without the rubber stopper at the bottom, and any money I stashed there would fall out like it does from my wallet when Bath and Body Works has their 2-for-1 sale.
Birthday presents were purchased with S&H Green Stamps. We did all our grocery shopping on Wednesdays, double stamp day at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store. The cashier would hand out a strip of the little green trading stamps, the number of stamps calculated based on the dollar amount of groceries purchased. I got to keep and redeem at the Green Stamp store any books where I had licked and stuck the stamps on the pages. I remember them tasting like spearmint, this may or may not be true.
I bought my Santa bank at an antique store in Jefferson, Texas, spurred on by a desire to replace each iconic artifact from my childhood. You know you’ve reached a certain age when every toy you ever owned is now “vintage” and “collectible.”
Every year in December my mom would bring out the bank, and I’d help her drop the coins into dusty paper wrappers. She’d pull out the stopper and pour out the quarters, a pile of clinking silver on the tabletop. Always quarters, and never dimes, nickels, or those useless bitter pennies.
I knew my parents bought my presents, but I also believed in Santa — the one with the flying reindeer. How can you believe in something and yet know it isn’t true? Have you ever looked at a triple chocolate cake and said to yourself, “I’ll just have one bite?”
I had a stocking every Christmas, and Santa always left one orange, one apple, several peppermint canes, and a handful of nuts. I’d have presents too, bought with those carefully wrapped quarters. The years went by, the name “Santa” on the gift tag replaced by “Mom” or “Dad”. We still stayed up late to watch the television newscasters predict the path of the jolly elf’s journey.
My mother loved stories, she’d act out the tales of Br’er Rabbit and recite what she remembered of Tom Sawyer’s adventures. She loved Santa and the Tooth Fairy equally. I believe she got as much of a thrill placing the gifts under the tree and the quarters under my pillow as I got joy in receiving them.
I finally located my Santa bank on top of the book shelf in our dining room. His face is familiar, and when I pick him up, I can imagine the heft he’d have filled with coins. My parents filled my childhood with the wonder of a magic elf who’d visit the good boys and girls on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t disappointed to learn the truth, because the best gift they gave me was the gift of imagination.