Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Santa Doesn't Like Chimney Fires

Papa Bill said "If you had an interesting childhood disillusionment, post it on my blog, or yours."

One of the things my parents always hated about me was that I had an incredible memory for spoken words. When I was five, I would bring up conversations that we had verbatim. My father thought I was autistic because I never looked at people but absorbed everything that was happening around me. A lot of interesting words were thrown around about me.

An annoying side effect of my memory was that my deductive skills were quite adept. I figured out things about people that startled and embarrassed my mother. My mother desperately tried to have me keep my thoughts to myself. Of course, things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny intrigued me more than anything.

So it was one sunny day, shortly after watching something on television about Santa Claus, that I approached my mother with a series of questions. I crawled into a chair and she fed me chocolate chip cookies and apple, hoping food would keep me quiet. It didn't. My most prominent question, and the one that had been bothering me the most, was how Santa Claus could possibly tell that people weren't Christian. It didn't seem rational that he would have the time to know everyone's address and what their faith was. So I asked this question hoping my mother, beacon of knowledge that she was, would have a brilliant answer for me.

What I remember most was the fumbling. My mother had never stuttered when giving me an answer before, but in the case she tripped over her answer. At first she told me Jewish people have Menorahs so that Santa would know, but I reminded her that Chanukah didn't always fall on Christmas. What other ways could he possibly know?

After several aborted answers, mom lied to me. She told me that Jewish people light fires on Christmas so Santa knows not to come down the chimney. Initially I felt bad for Santa, who must, on occasion, accidentally burn himself or get smoke in his beard. But I thought about it more, and continued to think until the answer made no sense to me.

We had a chimney in our house, but we never used it. In its place was a tacky electric log with ugly wax paper that vibrated when you turned it on. Even at a young age, I was fascinated with how bad it looked. So I knew that there was no way we would have lit a fire on Christmas, and unless I was getting presents my parents were discarding, mom had lied to me.

There's this feeling when disillusionment strikes. It's kind of a cold terror, as if my world has been wrong all along and people are purposely deceiving me. I remember that feeling and swearing to myself that I didn't want to ask people questions again if they were just going to lie. I became quieter and less inquisitive . My parents were pleased.

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