As my sixth Christmas morning arrives, I am giddy with excitement. I spring out of bed, tangle myself in my robe and bounce downstairs hoping that Santa is more forgiving of tantrums and pouting faces than Mom and Dad have been this year.
As I tiptoe across the entry hall rug, I can see the tinsel-covered tree festooned with colored lights in the living room beyond and my oversized stocking snuggled up against the hearth, bulging with the promise of presents, chocolate santas and candy ribbon.
Crouching now, I steal my way toward the fireplace, hoping that no one detects my foray into this hallowed place - a place where only hours before Santa had slipped down the chimney, toting a bag full of untold delights.
As my eyes forage through the clutter of brightly colored boxes adorned with tresses of green and red curled ribbon, they suddenly come to rest on a small swatch of velvety red fabric dangling from the damper hook buried deep within the firebox.
On hands and knees I creep closer for a better look. My curiosity turns to horror. "Oh no!" I gasp aloud as I suddenly realize that this innocent looking snippet of cloth is a part of Santa's suit! I balance on my knees without moving, transfixed by fear. My visions of sugarplums turn to lumps of coal.
"He'll never come back!" I wail. Just like Ann Magee, who tripped and fell and skinned her knee in the backyard at my house last fall, Santa will never return. I am convinced that he'll blame me for this Christmas Eve mishap. He will remember my name and think of it twice as the cold winter wind whistles through the jagged tear in his crimson drawers.
I can hear the gleeful chatter of my older brothers and sister as they make their way in my direction, blissfully unaware that disaster has struck on this otherwise glorious Christmas morning. I rise slowly to my feet and face them, feeling unusually small and dispirited. As misfortune would have it, I am to be the bearer of bad tidings on the gladdest, most magical day of the year.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the piece of cloth that dangled from the damper hook was from my grandmother's sewing box. Afraid, perhaps, that the worldly influences of school might weaken my belief in Santa Claus, my parents conspired to preserve my faith in this wonderful icon of Christmas by resorting to a little skullduggery.
What they didn't anticipate was my reaction. The evidence they planted not only substantiated Santa's existence, it convinced me that I was on his list - his black list! To calm my fears that Santa would avoid our house next year, my grandmother painstakingly sewed the "jolly old soul" a new pair of pants.
On Christmas Eve of the following year, we left them by the hearth along with our usual offering of milk and cookies and a handwritten note of heartfelt apology.