When Olivia was three-year’s-old, we took her to the Pentagon City Mall for her annual chat with Santa Claus. She had her picture taken on his lap, and they even created a computer disk with a screensaver of the two of them for our viewing pleasure at work and home. It is an adorable picture, one we have much enjoyed. Olivia came away from their talk so excited about her list of wants being heard by the good elf himself. The visit took place early in December of that year.
A couple of weeks later, needing a few more gifts and toys, we visited FAO Schwartz at Georgetown Mall. It was lunchtime and their mall’s Santa was walking around on his own, maybe on a fifteen-minute break. Anyway, he was smaller, and wore horn-rimmed glasses rather than round golden ones. Instantly, Olivia froze in her tracks and tugged at my hand, pulling down to her level. “Mama,” she pointed, clearly dismayed. “That’s a different Santa.” Sure enough, I noticed, it was. Without thinking, I patiently explained that at this time of year, particularly so close to Christmas Eve, Santa Claus is very busy. He can’t visit every mall in the country himself every time, so sometimes he sends his brothers. “He has brothers?” she asked, surprised and delighted.
“Yes. LOTS of them,” I assured her. Some of his brothers look a lot like him, but others really don’t. Sort of like how Aunt Jaime and I look different, but we’re still sisters. She nodded, understanding completely. So I continued, “The dark haired ones wear wigs that are white, to match their older brother’s hair.”
“Santa’s hair!” She declared.
“Exactly. And the ones who don’t grow good beards, you know, like Uncle Phil can’t grow a good moustache? Well, those brothers wear fake beards.”
“Just like their big brothers!” she explained to me, nodding her head up and down.
“Yes. But you see, the thing is, they never talk about it. They think nobody notices. So we pretend like we don’t notice. Do you understand?” I implored, wondering how I’d come up with this one, so wanting her belief to continue a few more years. At least until she got to kindergarten and some kid wrecked it for her. I wanted her to have two more years, after all. I wasn’t being greedy or spreading malicious lies.
“I think so. If you ask them if they are the real Santa, it might hurt their feelings?” Olivia suggested.
“That’s right. And we wouldn’t want to do that, because all the brothers go home at night at they tell Santa what each child wants. You wouldn’t want, say, the youngest one to go home and say, ‘Well, Olivia Hillard wants a new doll, a red bike, a yellow sweater, but skip the bike because she hurt my feelings.” I mimicked her wide-eyed comprehension of the levity of the problem.
Agreeing with me that it would be rude to do otherwise, Olivia simply walked up to the resting “Santa” and told him hello. He shook her hand and asked her name, “Olivia Grace Hillard” she announced with gusto as he belly-laughed, sort of.
Running back to me, she said, “Yep, he was a brother. The one I took my picture with was the real one because he already KNEW my name.”
Jump ahead one year. We have matinee, first row tickets to the Christmas Celebration at the Kennedy Center. We had lunch there in the terrace restaurant, dressed Olivia all up in velvet and leotards and shiny black patent leather Mary Jane’s. Somebody in the elevator told us that she was everybody’s idea of Christmas, all dressed up like that. Of course, he didn’t see her after lunch. But that’s another story, for another time.
A tall man in a tuxedo and an equally tall woman in red velvet Santa-like dress hosted the show. They were both extremely handsome people, and Olivia thought the woman looked like Barbie, but with dark hair. As the various acts progressed, and just before intermission, we were dazzled by a young African American tap dancer from the University of Maryland. Apparently this young man has studied under Gregory Hines and Mikhail Barishnikoff, among others. He was indeed fabulously talented. He was joined on the stage by 8 or 10 young girls who were also tap dancing in holiday array. But the main dancer was dressed exactly like Santa Claus.
Olivia was at that point sitting astride my lap, mouth agape, watching the show. Then, as if the memory just hit her, she leaned over and stage whispered to me, in a conspiratorial voice since it IS, after all, a secret, “Mama, is he a BROTHER?”
After the group of older ladies seated directly behind us recovered, which took some doing since we could smell the martini-luncheon on their communal breath, I felt the need to explain the full story. I probably could have saved myself the effort, as they enjoyed their first rendition so fully.
Copyright December 2001