There isn’t too much I remember about my eighth Christmas season. It was cold and there was snow on the ground. I was excited because we were going to have a special visitor, the only aunt I knew. I had many aunts, but all of them lived on the East Coast, so they were just names to me. Looking back on it now I don’t remember remembering any other aunts. About the only reason I remembered my Aunt Cira (pronounced Sara) was because at the time I was told I I remembered her. I was eight years old.
At that age we’re just starting to form our own memories. For the most part we don’t remember much of what’s been going on around us unless there was a good reason to remember it or if someone reminded us about it.
I do remember some of the kids I played with. I also have a few memories of second grade. Mostly I remember that we had just moved from a trailer into a house. It was the first time I ever slept in a bed that wasn’t much more than a foot off the ground and didn’t have bars around it to keep me from falling out.
Aunt Cira probably didn’t know any of that. She was staying a week and I was told it was going to be exciting. After the first hour or so, I didn’t think it was very exciting. Mom and her sister just talked and talked and talked about people and places I knew nothing about. I went outside.
Aunt Cira’s plans were the big topic of conversation at dinner that night. The only thing I remember about it was that I felt cheated. She and mom were going to take my brother Richard into Chicago on Friday. I couldn’t go because I had to be in school. Even though my aunt was going to take me on Saturday, it didn’t seem very fair. As far as I was concerned I’d never been in the city and Richard was going to get to be there first.
It was another one of those situations where at age eight anything that happened in the past might not have happened at all. Besides, no one reminded me that I’d been into the city 30 or 40 times with my parents, so I didn’t remember any of it.
I guess Richard had a lot to say about his trip into the city, but it was his visit with Santa that bothered me. I was jealous, not only did Richard get to be the first one to go to the city with our Aunt, but he also got to see Santa first. That meant Santa already knew what Richard wanted for Christmas. If Aunt Cira changed her mind and decided not to go, then Santa might never know what I wanted for Christmas. My Aunt may have realized what I was thinking because she assured me I would not only get to see Santa, but it would be a very special day because it was going to be ‘just the two of us.’
The next morning when the train pulled into the station there were big puffs of steam coming from underneath it and I got to stand in one of them. It was warm, but that made me even colder as we hurried to get on the train. It seemed like a long trip and the train station in Chicago seemed terribly crowded with people going in so many directions, but they all seemed to know where they were going.
We stopped for hot chocolate, then Aunt Cira inisisted on torturing me by doing some shopping. It felt like the entire day had passed before we finally found Santa. I told him I wanted a toy truck and some Lincoln Logs or an Erector Set. After that we had lunch before Aunt Cira spent the rest of the afternoon shopping.
As far as I was concerned, that was about it for Aunt Cira’s visit. Two days later when I got home from school, she was gone, riding another train somewhere on her way back to New York.
By the time Christmas arrived about two weeks later I’d just about forgotten Aunt Cira’s visit, but I got a reminder. Dad pulled two large, brightly wrapped presents from under the tree.
“This one’s from Santa Claus.” I was learning that most of my presents would be from Santa Claus. “And this one’s from Aunt Cira,” Dad said as he slid the second large box over toward me.
The present from Santa was a Lincoln Log set and the box from Aunt Cira was an Erector set. Obviously she’d either overheard my telling Santa, or I told her myself. I imagine somewhere during the train ride she asked me what I was going to ask Santa to bring.
More than five years passed before I thought about that Christmas again. It happened when I was handed a gift tagged, ‘From Santa.’ A bunch of things fell into place. That’s when I realized both those presents were from my aunt. She did have insider information after all, but I began wondering when she managed to buy them.
You see, we got off the train Saturday evening. She was with the family all Sunday. She boarded the train to Chicago about the time the school bell was ringing for me Monday morning she was on her way back.
Surely she hadn’t been sneaky enough to get buy my gifts right under my nose, while I was there with her, was she? Even if she managed that, those boxes were heavy. Was she strong enough to carry them around the store and all the way to the train? Maybe, more likely not.
I like to think she worked out a special deal with Santa, but it was probably my dad. I can picture her slipping him some money with a list of what Richard and I wanted for Christmas.
I’ve never been enough of a detective to examine the tags on any Christmas packages. I never check handwriting or anything like that. If it was something I’d been in the habit to do, even at that young age, maybe I wouldn’t remember that Christmas when I was eight. I don’t remember either my ninth or tenth Christmas.
Whether she intended to do it or not, Aunt Cira found a way to remind me of a Christmas I should remember. At least once every Christmas when someone his handed a present with a tag that says, “From Santa,” I remember the Christmas season when my Aunt came to visit.