I don't remember when Santa quit bringing me presents.
It wasn't that I didn't believe - or was it? Had I let my tween angst and cynicism take over and without uttering a word, the internal shift had caused Santa to not show up one year.
I still had my presents. They were still under the tree, all shiny and new, adorned with ribbons and bows.
But something was missing.
I wanted Cole to keep believing in Santa each year, even though his questions made me wonder. What was his friends telling him? Did they still believe?
"Is Santa real?" he would ask out of the blue and usually at odd times, like in the middle of July.
"Do you believe he's real?" I would ask back.
"Yes," he would reply matter of factly. "Do you?"
I do, or thought I did. Maybe my faith, even in the spirit of Christmas, was not as strong as it once was. I had to admit, I had grown weary with the commercialism, the feeling that no matter what I did, it was not enough and I was not putting on SuperChristmas.
"Did you ever see Santa?" Cole asked. This time, it was last year, a few days before Christmas.
"Yes, I did," I told him. And I did see Santa once. Not the department store Santa either, but I remembered just as clearly as if it was yesterday.
I was probably around Cole's age at the time and had heard those rumors. Some kid at school had an older sibling and they came to school telling us that Santa was not real. He was a phony and a fake and some lie our parents made up to make us behave all year. I had started asking my own questions of Mama.
"All I know is, if you believe, he shows up. Once you stop...well," she let her voice trail off as she went about her crossword puzzle.
I was too scared to question much more; I had put a lot of good stuff on the list that year and didn't want to risk it.
Maybe I could set a Santa trap? I thought. No, Mama worked nights and may fall in it instead.
But she usually got home after Santa had already left.
"What time does Santa usually get here?" I asked Granny.
"He comes after you go to sleep," she answered.
"How soon after I go to sleep?"
"I don't know, I don't set my clock by him. The sooner you go to sleep the better."
Then I could pretend to be asleep and wait til I heard him, I thought.
I got up in the bed, snuggled down under the covers, feigning sleep. I heard Granny come in to check on me, tucking the quilt around me tightly. She went back to the kitchen, getting her turkey started for the next day.
I waited until I heard her steadily at work before I slipped out of my cocoon, lifting the curtain to peer out of the frosty glass. I pressed my nose to the window, trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness outside. Not getting a good view, I wiped the condensation off and re-pressed my nose to the glass, only to find a pair of eyes, shielded by a hand, peering back at me.
There was no time to scream. No time to run. I couldn't tell Granny; she thought I was asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head.
But there, in all his glory, was Old Saint Nick peeking in on me.
I asked Granny the next day if anyone had been outside Christmas Eve. She said not that she knew of; she hadn't even heard Santa when he arrived. Pop and Bobby had been asleep and Mama at work. And I had heard the old gal cooking until the wee hours.
I never told a soul until I told Cole last year. His eyes grew as big as saucers.
"I would love to see him!" he exclaimed.
"No, you wouldn't," I said. "It about scared the stuffings out of me."
We made Santa some cookies and left the reindeer some carrots and a bowl of fresh water on the back deck.
Cole scurried off to bed extra early, determined he could re-create the mystery I had created so many years before. He just knew he could wake up and catch a peek at Santa. I promised to stay up and let him in so the dogs wouldn't bite him.
Lamar and I put his toys out under the tree when we knew he was sound asleep. I wanted to stay up a little later, why, I don't know, but drifted off in the recliner as I followed Santa's sleigh on the news.
Roubaix woke me with a soft bark. Venus ventured off her corner of the couch to sniff at the door.
"What is it?" I asked them. They both gave me the shepherd head tilt but did not bark again.
They seemed almost in awe.
Then, I heard it. Bells. Tinkling, jingling bells. Almost like sleigh bells.
I ran to the bedroom where I dove under the covers and scared to believe what just happened, made myself go to sleep.
The next morning, the cookies were gone. Half-eaten carrots were found and the water bowl was empty.
Could it have been?
Surely not...but maybe?
Mama texted, "Merry Christmas! Did Cole like what Santa brought him?"
I texted her back he did; then added. "Mama, I may be going crazy...but last night...I think I heard sleigh bells."
It seemed like forever before she replied. "I believe you" was all she wrote.
"Yes. I heard them once too. When you were about Cole's age."
"What do you think it was?" I texted back.
Surely Mama, with her wisdom would have a logical, reasonable response.
"I know what it was," her message read. "It was the spirit of Christmas."
And maybe at a time we both needed to believe, more than a child, that Christmas was still very much alive.