Coffee Klatsch, Memories, Occasions, Stearns

The Year That Santa Forgot

Marti was in her mid teens.

One Christmas morning there were no gifts for my older sister under the tree except for lovely knitted mittens from her godmother Viola, who lives in St Martin.

My parents were horrified. Santa had forgotten my sister.

Marti wore her big girl pants that day and said it didn’t matter.

But it did.

"Mom and Dad were focused on you young ones," she said when we were together for Halloween. There may have been tears.

Oh, feelings and memories get locked away, but they can be as fresh today as they were 60 years ago.

And so it was for Marti, remembering the year that Santa didn’t come.

Four of my siblings were quite a few years older.

Times had been harder when they were small, and Christmas was a highlight of the year.

The older generation could reminisce all they liked about only getting an orange in their stocking from Santa when they were kids. If they were lucky.

But for the seven of us, there was a build-up to Christmas, lying in front of the heated register skimming through pages of toys and clothes in the JC Penney and Sears Roebuck catalogs.

In those magical weeks, it didn’t feel impossible to ask for a present or two that could only be asked for at Christmas (even if, like Marti, you no longer believed in Santa).

As I get older I marvel at my parents – working class, a mortgage, one income, seven kids, and the burden of expectation as Christmas approached.

They did so well.

We always felt lucky at Christmas.

I was too young to remember anything of the year when Marti sat silently while the rest of us ripped festive paper from our presents.

But I know that forgetting our kind-hearted sister will have bothered Mom.

And now, it bothered me.

Whenever I am in Minnesota, it is Marti who accompanies me on Lois Walks – strolls through cemeteries to visit loved ones and older relatives who have passed away.

I call these Lois Walks after my cousin Lois Thielen, holder of so much genealogical and family history. Alive or dead, she knows everyone and, like me, enjoys a walk through the cemeteries of small town Minnesota. During strolls with Lois in the quiet churchyards, everyone lives again.

At the Assumption Cemetery in St Cloud, where our parents are buried, Marti likes to sprawl on the grass while we remember Mom and Dad and remove overgrowth from their flat granite stone.

What lovely memories I have of these times with my sister. 

Dad died in 1979.

The modest stone bears his name and the years of his birth and death.

Mom’s details were added at the same time, with a blank space for the year when she would die.

“It’s strange to see where you’ll wind up,” she sometimes said. “Not yet though.”

I smile when I remember this, as though her warning to the universe could stop death from ever coming for her. But it did, in 2012.

Now that year is also inscribed on the pretty stone with its carved cross and swoop of rosary beads.

It’s usually Marti who remembers to bring a sharp knife (maybe a leftover pumpkin cutter from Halloween), a scissor, and some old spoons.

It’s often autumn when we head for the cemetery.

Because of COVID it had been awhile since we’d shared this ritual, and clearing the weeds took patience.

We did a good job together.

We always do.

The sky was darkening.

Columns of rattling leaves swirled through the headstones, mausoleums, and trees.

I left roses from Coborns at the graves of Mary and Sue and Sue and as many aunts and uncles and neighbors and old friends as I could find.

Marti waited for me in the car.

She always does.

During this visit, it was also time to ensure that Christmas finally came for Marti, to make up for the year that Santa forgot.

I found an oversized Peanuts card at Target, and crafted an apology from Mom and Dad.

Through my bad handwriting they told Marti how much they loved her. That they were sorry about that long ago Christmas. That they had organized an overdue gift for her.

“Be ready tomorrow morning at nine,” I wrote.

My sister doesn’t like an early start.

She was worried I was taking her for a massage, or something that would require nudity or politeness at a time of day when she’s not at her best.

“Tell me where we’re going so I can be prepared,” she pleaded.

“It’s a surprise,” I said. “Just wear good undies.”

I do love to wind her up.

We drove towards Pantown, near where we’d grown up.

We pulled up in front of her daughter’s hair salon, Carpe Diem in 2nd Street South. Marti would spend the morning with Anna.

When we returned later, Marti’s hair shimmered with highlights in four colours.

Her red locks swished as she moved.

You can’t erase the mistakes of the past.

But you can share them.

Talk about them.

Heal from them.

Maybe even laugh about them.

And so, as Christmas approached, we did.

Marti and me at the lake in Avon, where our older sisters often took us swimming.

Photos istock, Snoopy and The Peanuts Gang Instagram

3 thoughts on “The Year That Santa Forgot”

  1. Marti says:

    I don’t remember crying..maybe one tear. As I told you I will remember that card and gift the rest of my life.
    My baby sister.. so good and kind. I couldn’t love you more. Marti

  2. Cherie says:

    I bet you were relieved my guess of a Brazilian wax was wrong…

    1. Editor says:

      As if I would gift a Brazilian wax to someone I care about.

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