‘Twas a few weeks before Christmas…

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Bill Haglund

I’ve never told anyone about this … not until today.

It’s probably the only secret I’ve ever kept to myself and I haven’t told anyone about it for 67 years. That’s right, I learned this in 1947 and have kept it to myself all these years. Why should I be the one to spill the beans, so to speak?

I suppose I should start at the beginning.

I was just 4 that year and Christmas was approaching. At that time, my family consisted of just Dad, Mom, me and my 2-year-old brother. A sister would come a few years later.

Anyway, it was about two or three weeks before Christmas and it’s the first Christmas of which I have any real recollections. It was a Sunday and my dad’s younger sister and her family were over for Sunday dinner. Afterward, mom promised, Santa Claus would come to visit us all.

I couldn’t wait. Santa Claus – the real, honest-to-goodness Santa Claus.

There were two of us who were 4 that year – my cousin was just a few months older than I – and we were both really excited at the prospect of meeting the Jolly Old Elf from the North Pole. Things could be no better.

It was tough waiting for the big moment. Minutes seemed like hours – maybe even longer for a couple of 4-year-old boys. First, there was dinner (hurry up, will you?). Even when mom’s apple pie and ice cream was dished up, I was too antsy to enjoy it. I think it’s the only time mom had to coax me to finish dessert.

Finally, though, we went into the big family room and sat around the Christmas tree dad had cut in the timber and brought home. It was beautifully decorated with a few bought Christmas bulbs, lighted with some multi-colored lights, and finished off with hand-made ribbons of popcorn, red berries and construction paper chains that I’d help make.

I kept looking for Santa Claus. But, a stove pipe was connected to our chimney and I didn’t understand how Santa could come down that way. Still, I think I kept watching the wood stove that heated the house, thinking somehow that the old guy would appear out of the stove.

Then we heard noise above us. Someone was coming down the stairs.

Could it be?

The door opened and out walked Santa Claus, greeting us all with a big “Ho, ho, ho!”

My cousin and I, along with our younger siblings, were in awe of the whole experience. Santa, all dressed in red, with a flowing white beard, had a big red bag he carried over his shoulder. Toys!

You could see Santa smile as he took the bag off his shoulder, placed it on the floor beside a big, comfortable chair, and sat down.

“Who wants to come and tell Santa what he wants for Christmas?” he said, to which both my cousin and I yelled in unison, “I do, I do!”

Santa picked me first. I’d never been as excited as I sat down on his knee and told him everything I wanted for Christmas. All too soon, though, it was my cousin’s turn. Just as eagerly as I had, he climbed up on Santa’s knee and looked him in the eye.

Suddenly, though, my cousin blurted out – “That’s not Santa. That’s my daddy!”

What? My Uncle Wallace is Santa Claus? Wow! I’m in a royal family. Santa Claus. My uncle is Santa Claus.

“Mommy, is Uncle Wallace Santa Claus?” I asked my mother.

“Well, I guess he is,” she replied, not sure how to answer and spoil the day for everyone.

Holy Cow! What a deal! My uncle Wallace is Santa Claus.

I’ve never forgotten the family secret I learned that day. For several years, every time I’d see Santa Claus in a store or in a parade or anywhere kids gather at this time of year, I’d look him over closely.

“Nope, that’s not Santa Claus,” I thought. “Uncle Wallace must be too busy getting ready for Christmas and had to send out some helpers.”

Not long after that Christmas, you see, my Uncle Wallace was killed in a truck accident just northeast of Webster City. He died on my fifth birthday.

But, I knew he was still around.

Every Christmas morning I’d awake to toys under a big green tree. And I knew – maybe I was the only one who knew – that Uncle Wallace was still there.

After all, hadn’t he brought all those toys overnight?

(Bill Haglund is a retired staff writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at bhaglund13@msn.com)