It was Christmas Eve, maybe 1978. I was eight years old, or whatever age you are when you are at the tail end of believing in Santa. My parents and I were around the corner at the annual Parker family Christmas party. Their trendy seventies mocha brown paneled interior was warm and welcoming and the walls were covered in beautifully painted portraits and other fine art.
I spent a lot of time in that house but Christmas Eve was my favorite. The smell of pine from the immaculately decorated Christmas tree added to the festive ambience of the evening. I was also free to….well “free” isn’t exactly the right word, I was able to discreetly indulge in the dazzling array of sweet and savory delights. Little tiny quiches and cookies with raspberry jam in the center. Cakes and pies for days.
We were moderately famous in town around this time of year due to the eagerly awaited appearance of Dad’s homemade eggnog, which was the centerpiece of the refreshment table. It was strong. Nine cups of liquor strong. Illegal moonshine strong. Turn everyone at the party into wild slobbering wild beings strong. We were popular. Dad, who was mostly a background character in life, reveled in the fleeting attention that was Christmas.
I had always loved that party. I loved the Parker family. They were so kind and appeared to care about my well-being. I would wander over to their house frequently. In the seventies an eight year old could safely, and without alarming passers by, stroll around the neighborhood to visit.
The Parker family had two children, Alex and Feliciana.
Alex was one year older than I was. A troublemaker with a shock of wavy blonde hair and Caribbean blue eyes. We would always end up in the back yard in some sort of dirt-oriented adventure or down the street annoying the crap out the neighbors by knocking on doors and running away, or riling up their pets and younger children. He was was always up to some sort of half-innocent no good and was therefore obviously my first crush. I didn’t even know what a crush was back then but I had it bad for him. He was dreamy. He was also oblivious to my charms, but in his defense, he was nine.
Feliciana was my brother’s age, four years older than I was, and I idolized her. She was so mature and oddly beautiful with the same blonde hair as Alex’s but with the addition of her exotic name and the aggressively cute freckles on her face. Despite the difference in our ages she and I had been and would continue to be close friends for the coming years. We had bonded over a shared passion for horseback riding. The barn where our families boarded our ponies was adjacent to a tobacco farm, which bordered a wooded trail and a small lake. We would sneak out after our lessons and take wild trail rides, drag racing in between the rows of sweet-smelling mature tobacco plants and meandering through the woods singing loudly as we got deeper in to hunting territory so as to prevent the buzzed gunmen from mistaking our brown ponies for deer.
That Christmas Eve was a bit hindered by the fact that I had a badly sprained ankle from a spill I had taken from a riding lesson with my crazy new German trainer. Mom had hired him to “toughen me up”. She said I was too timid on horseback. I wonder if she would have stepped in if she had been aware of what he was putting me through.
Some of his favorite stunts for me were having me jump fences with no reins or stirrups. Then he would have me trot around with one knee across the saddle and my other leg out behind me like some sort of twisted acrobatic circus act. Then there was the one that did me in; an “emergency dismount” at a full gallop. I can’t think of any kind of emergency that would warrant jumping off of a horse going full blast but like an idiot I gave it a whirl and I jumped. He always told me it wasn’t a successful lesson unless I fell off at least once. I had a lot of successful lessons. This ill- fated one resulted in my holiday lameness.
So I was on crutches for Christmas. This didn’t sit well with my parents for some reason. I guess I was slowing them down or inconveniencing them in some way, or smudging the postcard facade of the perfect Hynes Christmas. Whatever it was, it made no sense to me but I had this instinct to try and make myself as unobtrusive as possible.
I was on edge that evening. I was in a lot of pain. My parents had never believed me when I was sick or injured. Instead of sympathy or caretaking I got annoyance and abandonment, or in some cases ridicule. That night started out no different other than being ridiculed with an audience.
Frustrated with my “fake injury”, my father decided to put a stop to it once and for all.
“Santa doesn’t visit little girls on crutches” He smirked.
My world stopped. What did he just say? I wasn’t old enough for the lack of logic and intentional cruelty of that statement to be clear to me. All I heard was “NO SANTA”
I became hysterical. Why wasn’t I good enough? Why would Santa abandon me like that? The tears began to flow in earnest. I looked to my parents for some sort of reassurance but got nothing in return except for suspenseful gazes that were wondering what I would do next. I did what any eight year old would have done. I threw down the crutches and took a tentative step, straining my injured ankle. The pain shot through my body like a bolt of razor sharp lightning. My crying became all-consuming and I heaved on the verge of total hyperventilation, but I kept walking. Santa was not going to pass me by.
I thought someone would come to my defense but the crowd was knee deep in Dad’s eggnog and the ones who were paying attention to this pathetic little scene began to laugh. I felt as if I was alone underwater and their laughs were cruel and distorted and distant. The sounds reminded me of those canned laugh tracks that were always queued up in the background on cheesy seventies sitcoms.
My parents were laughing along with the crowd. Dad just shook his head in a way that said “I knew you were faking it. You’re busted.” Mom stood behind him, disapproval behind her grin but maybe a bit embarrassed of the scene being caused. Mom wasn’t one for making scenes. It just wasn’t sufficiently classy to call such attention to ourselves. But I believe she was on board with the strategy of teaching me the important lesson that lying little girls get punished, even by Santa.
Santa is a dick.