One of my earliest memories of Christmas was an especially magical time. It was the first year I can remember snow at Christmas—a late December rarity in Portland. Inside the house, my dad had strung the lights and fixed a shining star firmly on the top of a Douglas Fir tree that stretched to the ceiling. My dad and mother together hung what seemed to be box after box of beautiful ornaments. I hung a few, too—breaking three, maybe four. The front room and kitchen were decorated for the holidays. We had some songs and some pranks. And all was ready—for a visit from Santa Claus.
On Christmas Eve, it happened. Early in his rounds, he came to our house. Honest. Sometime after dinner. The moonlight was shining on the snow outside. My mother was quietly reading me a Christmas story. When suddenly, I heard the exciting clatter of reindeer hoofs on the roof, a muffled knock on the door, and a throaty “ho.. .ho.. .ho”.. .trailing off into the wind. “Merry Christmas,” he chortled. My mother jumped up. “It’s Santa. It’s Santa. Let’s go look.”
I ran first to the window, then to the door. My mother swung the door wide open. There—right there on our front stoop—was a, shiny, new, red Flexible Flyer sled, topped with three gaily-wrapped Christmas packages. A moment later, I heard my dad come up behind me, shouting “There he goes, Billy. Look. Quick. Up there. Up there.”
I looked up, transfixed, up into the sky. And do you know, to this day, I still believe I saw on the distant horizon the fading vision of a sled in the night skies, pulled by eight tiny reindeer. (My folks happily got away with these wonderful Christmas theatrics for two, maybe three, more years.) Happy times.
Right from the start, my mother made it clear she did not want me to call her “Mommy’ or “Mom.” She said she wanted me to call her “Mother.” And that I did, throughout her life.