What Santa Knows

Deborah Hendrick on Monday, December 25th, 2006

Corporal Cameron Daniels bought the bicycle in St. Louis. Maybe it was the last one in town and maybe he paid too much for it, but what he had in his pocket was too much money. Better to spend it all, he thought, than to get rolled in the alley. The only thing he’d bought for himself since he’d been the Army was a dress cap, so he could have a formal portrait taken. It was in his duffel bag, a gift for his mother.

Cam bought perfume for his older sister Edie, and an armload of piano music for his little sister Millie. He also bought, and it wasn’t easy, ten yards of white batiste. It was for his mother, although he knew she’d turn it into nightgowns and slips for his sisters, but maybe she’d sew something for herself, too.

He was tempted to buy their presents for next year, since he would surely be overseas by then, but realized it was a terrible idea and would make his mother cry. Christmas was going to be awash in tears anyway, without him making it worse.

For his father, he bought a fine silver pocketknife, a gentleman’s knife to carry in his pocket on Sundays, and a bottle of whiskey. His mother would frown over the whiskey, but Pop would make it last until the war was over.

Cam balanced his duffel bag across the bicycle, and pushed it to the train station. Along the way two men tried to buy it from him. One woman wanted to know if the Army was issuing bikes to the GIs now. She didn’t mean it of course. She was only looking for an excuse to talk to him because her own son was already far away, and it was comforting to talk to a soldier who looked like her boy. That happened a lot, Cam discovered—strangers calling him Son.

From St. Louis he rode the train to Dallas, then Sweetwater, and from there a short ride on the Doodlebug brought him on home. He was the only passenger, along with some freight, and the sun wasn’t up yet.

He wanted coffee, but more than that, he wanted to get home and get the bicycle beside the tree before his little brother Jack woke up. He knew there’d be a tree—green and pungent—a misshapen scrub juniper decorated with strings of popcorn and delicate paper chains made by Millie.

A mile out of town, Dub Leldon drove past Cameron, then stopped in the middle of the road. Dub had been out early, to bust up the ice on the cow tanks in his pastures on the other side of town. He grinned and danced back and forth, pumped Cam’s hand and pounded him on the back. “Boy Howdy for sure!” he shouted. “That brother of yours is gonna bust his buttons when he sees that bike!”

Dub spread out a pile of tow sacks and carefully laid the bicycle in the back of his pickup, then he and Cam climbed into the warm cab. Cam stopped Dub before he could turn down the road to the farm house. “The whole family will hear your pickup, Dub, and the surprise will be lost.” They unloaded the bike, and Cam once again balanced his heavy duffel bag across the seat and handlebars, and quietly pushed it up to the house.

The kitchen light was on, and he watched his mother moving in and out of view through the window. The door to the barn was closed, but it unlatched so he knew Pop was in there milking. “Oh fresh milk,’ he said. “I’ll make myself sick on milk.” Cam stood by the side of the back porch, waiting for his father to come out of the barn. He didn’t see his son at first; he had his head down watching his steps so he didn’t step in a patch of ice and slosh the milk pail.

Cameron watched his father, with the sun coming up pink and gold, gilding his father’s face, and turning the frost and ice to glittering diamonds. When his father saw him, he stood there in shock for a moment. Then he set the pail down so fast it almost tipped over. They met halfway and Cam found himself in a crushing hug. In only one year, his father had aged five, it seemed to Cam, but the eyes were still bright blue and clear.

“Your mother won’t believe this. Good thing I insisted on the goose for dinner! That Jack, every day he’s trying to figure out what you’re doing,” he said, patting the seat of the bicycle. “Oh Son, it’s so good to see you. Why didn’t you let us know you were coming? I would have met you at the station.”

“I didn”t know Pop, until the last minute. Seemed easiest just to get on the train.”

“Let’s go surprise your mother,” he said. Wilson Daniels picked up his milk bucket and started up the steps, holding a finger to his lips in a conspiratorial gesture. “Ma! Ma! You’ll never guess what I found in the barn just now. Santy’s been here.”

“Now Wil,” she said, “You stop your foolishness. What have you gone and done?” Cameron matched his steps to his father’s footsteps, and followed him into the kitchen. His mother stood at the table, with her back to the door, rubbing butter on the goose.

Look Ma! Doesn’t Santa always know what you want?”

Topics: Short stories

5 Responses to “What Santa Knows”

Eric Says:
December 25th, 2006 at 9:55 am

A fine story for a fine morning. May the Lord bless you and yours greatly on this Christmas Day, and every day afterward!

Deborah Says:
December 25th, 2006 at 12:12 pm

Thank you for your kind words. Merry Christmas to you and your family and His Blessings always.

Linda Says:
December 25th, 2006 at 12:40 pm

Nice, Very nice. I wonder how many would know what the Doodle Bug was, although you told essentially with your words. I can see Hamlin TX in the 1940s and that well longed for boy. Love you, Linda

John Flanagan Says:
December 28th, 2006 at 9:20 am

What a great story! Brings back memories of returning home for Christmas from Army Flight School in 1966.

Deborah Says:
December 28th, 2006 at 10:23 am

Thank you John. I’m glad to know it sparked a memory for you. I hope that forty years since flight school, you are still beating the air into submission!


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