The fire crackled radiating it’s heat into the big room. The grownups talked their important talk and we kids yakked about our important kid stuff. The clock sitting on the mantle began to chime. Nine belss sounded. With that last everyone became restless.
"All right you kids. You need to get off to bed if you want Santa to stop here tonight. He won't deliver anything for boys and girls who sit up too late. So, come on let's get ready for bed."
"Wait! We don't have our stockings up yet," Clyde and I chimed in. "We gotta find some stockings."
"All right, come let's have a look around."
"Get some stockings from my drawer in the main bedroom," said Granma. We always counted on her stockings. They reached from the mantle piece to the floor.
"Come on then."
We jumped up off the floor and rushed into Granma's bedroom and straight for the dresser. We dived into the drawers and came up with white silk stockings. Her room was small with an old iron stove in the middle. The black stove piping went straight up through the ceiling. One year my dad and my uncle had to climb up to remove a stork's nest before the thing could be lit. It gave off a warm glow and we always held our hands out to it when we passed. It was comforting. We did the same thing now before carrying our stockings to the mantle. It was just a ruse to delay going to bed.
The stockings reached to the floor and glowed orange reflecting the fire.
"Wait, mine's got a hole in the bottom. All the stuff will spill out," I said holding the toe for my dad to see.
"Wait right here," he said and left the room. He returned with an old tin washtub which he placed under the toe.
"There," he said with a grin. "Now whatever spills out will collect right in this tub and you won't have to hunt under the furniture for anything that might roll away."
"Thanks, dad," I said as I grasped the toe of the stocking behind my back and ripped it a little more to give the goodies room to spill out and into the tub. Won't this be great? I thought. Santa will wonder why this thing isn't filling up and I'll get twice as much as Clyde.
"OK. OK. You kids head off to bed now."
The grownups shooed us into the bedroom just through the door to the right. My mother followed us in to make sure we got dressed for bed and under the covers safely. The room had been shut off from the heat of the fireplace and it was chilly. We got out of our clothes and hurried into our pajamas covering goose bumps from the chill. Our bare feet froze to the bone as we ran to bed over the drafty wood floors. We jumped in and sank six inches into the feather mattress. My mother pulled the blankets up to our chins and we sank our heads into the down feather pillows.
"Goodnight, boys," my mother said closing the door. She peeked in once more and said, "Now go to sleep quickly or Santa won't stop here tonight and you'll miss out on Christmas."
"Goodnight,'' Clyde said.
"Goodnight," I repeated.
How the heck were we supposed to go to sleep? Santa was flying down from the North Pole and we were too excited. Besides the grownups were still up, talking, eating cake and drinking coffee. "Y'all need to go to bed too!" I yelled through the door.
"We're going to bed soon," said my mother who peeked in once more.
"Gees," I said to Clyde. "They'll never go to bed. Santa will never stop here."
"Nef, don't you know there ain't no Santa," said Clyde.
"Nuh uh, you're wrong," I said. "Where you think all those toys under the tree and in the stockings come from?"
"You're wrong," I said.
"Nope, I'm not and I'll prove it."
"Wait til they go to bed and it's quiet. Then we'll give them time to fall asleep and we'll sneak out there and I'll show you."
"We can't sneak out there. Santa will know we're awake and he won't stop."
"You really are a dope, aren't you? You wait. Trust me."
No Santa? He had to be wrong. We waited for everyone on the other side of the door to quiet down and go to bed so Clyde could show me he was right. We waited. And we waited. Clyde had a watch with a glow-in-the-dark dial that we checked time after time. 1 o'clock in the morning and we still heard talking on the other side of the door. 1:15, still talking. 1:30, shuffling around and talking. 1:45, the talk was less. And then, it was 4 in the morning.
"Hey, we fell asleep."
"Quiet. Listen." There was no noise except the slow quiet snoring of someone in the bed by the window. "Shhh, let's go now. I don't hear anybody."
"Yipe!" My foot hit the ice cold floor and I jumped along with my scream.
"Shhh. Quiet. Hold still" No one moved so my yell had not disturbed anybody. "OK. Come on."
I kept my mouth clamped and eased my feet to the floor once again. I rushed to the rug next to the door and Clyde opened it very slowly. The hinge creaked ever so slightly and someone in the bed next to the window moved and said, "Blasfoofoofatnno."
"It's OK. They're talking in their sleep. Come on." With the door open we could see the dying embers in the fireplace. They gave off no light and we couldn't turn on a light because we only used kerosene lamps here and no grownup in his or her right mind would allow a 6 or 9 year old city boy to carry a fired lantern. So here we were in the room with the tree. Packages were neatly stacked beneath it. We eased over to the mantle and grabbed for our stockings which were full of fruit and nuts and small gifts in paper and bow. I even felt into the tub which had several oranges and apples in the bottom. Hee, hee, I thought, Santa was fooled.
"See," said Clyde, "didn't I tell you. They put all this here while we were asleep."
"Nuh uh," I said. "When they finally went to sleep Santa stopped and left all this. We fell asleep and that's when he came."
"You're wrong. Our parent's dragged all this stuff out while we were supposed to be falling asleep. Why do you think they sat up so late?"
"You’re wrong. They were up talking and when they finally went to bed Santa was able to stop. You know we fell asleep after we looked at your glow-in-the-dark dial and it said 1:45. Next time we looked it was 4. That's plenty of time for Santa. So there."
"OK you baby. If you want to believe in Santa Claus you go right ahead. You probably believe in the Easter Bunny, too."
"You don't believe in the Easter Bunny? You still get Easter Eggs and Chocolate Rabbits, don't you? How you think you get those?"
"You're hopeless. Come on. We better go back to bed before they catch us."
He grabbed a package from under the tree and sneaked it back with us.
"What did you grab that for? You can't see," I said.
"Just watch," he said pulling the covers over our heads. "I can see who it's for by the light of my watch. Take a look."
We strained our eyes to the faint luminescence. I wasn't able to see what it was or who it was for though Clyde swore he could read it. We gave up and he sneaked it back to the tree. He ran back for the warmth of the mattress and covers. We settled back into the comfort of feather down and promptly fell asleep. The chickens woke us at sunrise but we just couldn't make ourselves get out of bed right away. The folks thought we were sick. We were just plain cold and that good feather mattress was so much more enjoyable than dressing in that cold.