I was the kind of kid who thought too much — from the time I was 5 or 6. I'm still afflicted with the thinking thing. You tell me how something works or why something happened, and I start dissecting it.
My inquisitive ways could have been accelerated by my parents' and grandparents' mythical misrepresentations pertaining to the holidays. You know, those little fibs they told about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Even the Tooth Fairy.
I remember, very distinctly, where I was and what I was doing when President Kennedy was assassinated, when Elvis died and the day I learned that there was no Santa Claus.
A kid named Wayne laid it out for me. A few days after Christmas, he and I were upstairs, in the attic of my home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We were trading baseball cards. Out of the blue, Wayne said, "There's no Santa Claus. Your mom and dad buy the presents and put them under the tree." Tough stuff for a third-grader to digest.
He was basically calling my parents and grandparents liars. I made him give me back my Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris cards and told him to get out of my house.
I began to pace the floor. A thousand thoughts ran through my head. Doubt and anxiety. I needed some answers. Right now!
Dad quit WGNS Radio in Murfreesboro and accepted an offer from Mr. Hoskins to do the morning show and manage WCLE in Cleveland, Tennessee. He stayed there through the week and came home on the weekends.
Mom wasn't feeling well and was in bed asleep. I knew better than to call Dad. He was always super busy. So I decided to call, long-distance, to my grandmother, Miz Lena, in Columbia, north of us. I asked the operator to please patch me through to area code 615-Evergreen 8-3046. This had to be a big mistake! I could count on my grandmother to tell me the truth.
As the phone rang, I started thinking. My Red Ryder cap pistols that Santa had just left under the tree for me came in a department store box. The price tag had been scratched off. Also, the Santa at Harvey's Department Store in Nashville looked a lot different than the one in the Coca-Cola TV ads.
Furthermore, how did Santa get into houses that didn't have a chimney? I had already wondered how he delivered all those presents to kids all around the world in just one night. Just like the picture of Noah's Ark in the Bible didn't look big enough to hold two of every animal in the world, Santa's sleigh didn't seem large enough to hold millions of presents.
I had always figured it was just magic. Besides, Santa drank the milk and ate the cookies that I left out for him on Christmas Eve.
Elizabeth, Grand Mom's housekeeper, answered the phone, "Scovil residence." I said, "Hi, Elizabeth, is my grandmom there?" She could tell by my tone. Elizabeth said, "Hello, Sweet Child, is you OK? What's wrong, Baby?" I told her that I really needed to talk to Grand Mom, "It's important." She said, "Hold on, Baby. I run git her."
Grand Mom got on the phone and said, "Hey, Honey Baby, is everything awright?" I told her what Wayne said and asked her if he was telling the truth.
She said, "What did yore mama say?" I told her Mom was in bed. I asked again, "Grand Mom, is it true?" I could hear it in her voice. She said that the spirit of Santa Claus was real. One of those adult answers. Grand Mom told me not to discuss anything about Santa with my two younger brothers.
She continued, "Besides, Christmas ain't about Santa Claus no how. Christmas is about Jesus' birthday. Now, if I was you, I'd be thinkin' about how yore gonna pay for this long-distance call. It ain't cheap. Tell yore mama to call me when she gets up. Remember, Grand Mommy loves you." She hung up. Dial tone. Unwelcome reality set in.
I pushed open the kitchen screen door and sat on the top step of the back porch — my elbows on my knees, my face in my hands. My dog, Prince, came and lay down next to me. He could always tell when something was wrong. We spoke telepathically to one another. Prince asked me what was wrong. I couldn't bear to tell him. I feared the truth about Santa would probably upset him. I put my arm around Prince's neck.
I started thinking about how convincing my dad, my mother and my grandparents had been about Santa. It was just too much. I was kind of in a state of shock. I had pictures rolling around in my head. Me, trying to make myself go to sleep on Christmas Eve, being told that if I didn't go to sleep, Santa wouldn't show up. That got me to thinking some more.
Easter had always been a confusing holiday to me. Palm Sunday. Good Friday. And then, finally, Easter Sunday. Wake up in the morning, and the Easter Bunny had gotten in and hidden candy eggs throughout the house. Not well hidden.
Step into the living room and within a minute, I could spot pink, red, yellow and orange Easter eggs everywhere. Under the couch. Behind the TV. A few in plain sight on the coffee table and by the phone. I thought the Easter Bunny wasn't a very good hider. But, after all, he was just a rabbit. What's a rabbit know about hiding things? Another thing, did the Easter Bunny actually lay eggs? Wait a minute! I ran back into the house.
This time, Grand Dad answered the phone. Grand Mom sounded a little put out. She said, "What did I tell you about usin' up yore long-distance? I wouldn't be surprised if yore mama is gonna tan yore britches." That saying never made much sense to me. Tan my britches?
I asked her, "Grand Mom, is the Easter Bunny real?" She said, "What's yore mama say?" Mom was still in bed. Grand Mom said with a sigh, "Baby, you need to talk to yore mama about that." I figured she was going to say that. A dead giveaway. All this was just too much.
Grand Mom said, "Honey Baby, Easter's about more important things than Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies. Easter's about Jesus dying on the cross for ever' body's sins and goin' back to heaven to be home with his daddy, the Lord. That's a whole lot more important than Easter bunnies. You be shore to have yore mama call me as soon as she gets up. Now, bye-bye, and I love you."
The double whammy! My head was spinning. I went back outside and sat back down on the porch. I couldn't even look at Prince. It was a tough day. My mind was racing.
It hadn't been more than three weeks ago that I had left one of my last baby teeth under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy. When I woke up the next morning, he had left me a dime. I say "he," but I guess I thought the Tooth Fairy looked more like Walt Disney's Tinker Bell. I had had my doubts about him/her as well.
I reckoned that if the Tooth Fairy was the size of Tinker Bell and serviced more than a few little boys' homes per night, seems like the weight of the collected teeth and all those dimes would be awfully heavy.
By the time the screen door slammed shut, I was back on the kitchen phone. I asked, "What about the Tooth Fairy, Grand Mom?"
I was glad that she was way over there in Columbia. I could hear that sound in her voice. The one she made when she would grab me by the arm and say, "Just one more time, and I'm gonna jerk a knot in your tail."
Miz Lena said, "Looka here, if you call me one more time, I'm gonna cut me off a branch and git yore granddaddy to drive me up there. Do you understand me?" I told her, "Yes, Ma'am. But is the Tooth Fairy real, or does Mom or Dad put the dime under my pillow?"
Right back, she said, "Does yore mama or daddy look like they can fly?"
I said, "No Ma'am."
She went on, "Do you think they can fit up under yore pillow?"
I said, "No Ma'am."
Miz Lena said, "Then what do you think, Son?"
I didn't know what to think. Based on Grand Mom's comments, it seemed there was a strong possibility that, at least, the Tooth Fairy was real. I was happy to leave it at that. I just couldn't take any more.
Years later, when I became a father, I carried on the stories about Santa and the Easter Bunny with my son, Jesse. I laid it on thick. But not about the Tooth Fairy.
I figured that he'd eventually understand my reason for weaving the tales about Christmas and Easter. But when he lost a tooth, I didn't try to slip money under his pillow. I gave him a buck on the spot. I didn't want him to be like me and not know the truth about the Tooth Fairy until way into the fifth grade.
Keep them believing for as long as you can. There's way too much reality out there. Happy New Year.
Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tennessee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.