Come see how we whirled and fussed and loved our way through time, lost in the largeness and largesse of magic, my brothers and sisters and I. Time was invisible and so slow it hardly passed at all. It was something you ran around in without fear of disturbing. How could you disturb the invisible, except through disbelief?
And what's not to believe, after all? Mama and Daddy were there--sipping their coffee, opening their mail, donning fancy clothes, preening before mirrors reflecting dark-haired vanity, vitality. Comings and goings, laughter and tears, food and chores and music and fun filled our days and evenings that winter in a world that was solid and unchanging in the larger scheme.
Christmas was a singularity—a self-contained world of romance and color, myth and magic that grew throughout the season. A rumor only time could confirm, it never arrived soon enough, and Christmas Past existed as an ever-receding legend. How could this new Christmas live up to a legend of wonder? Scampering out among the hills and gullies, seeking the perfect tree for Daddy to chop down, helped hasten that most magical night.
Still, would it never get here? What if we'd been too bad for Santa Claus to leave presents? But no, if we'd been that bad we would feel it. There never was a time when one of us had been so bad that Santa didn't come to our house. My big brother Rodney, who must've been 11, and my older sister, Becky, who was 7, confirmed this for Tim and me. Kathleen was not yet in the world. This was before so many inconceivable people and things became known. But Santa, yes Santa would surely come, tiptoeing across our peaked roof. We didn't have a chimney then, but somehow he would find his way inside. But when, Mama, and how?
Soon enough, darlings, he's magic.
At times you could enter such magic--moments late at night when the cedar tree exuded spells and spirits in its twinkling. Other times magic feelings arrived like belly laughs, in roars of raucous abandon.
I must've been about five the year Daddy brought home the recording of Gene Autry's Christmas songs. The album cover showed a cowboy with a white hat standing above Santa and a bag full of presents that filled Santa's sleigh to overflowing. A team of reindeer flew as if lofted on music between Gene's fancy boots, where he stood on air. And they flew right toward us, almost out into the room, where we stood holding the album cover, so that Rudolph was out front, up close.
Maybe you recall that most famous reindeer of all. Like us, he was small and misunderstood and yet he smiled with pride for a bulbous red nose that could light a path all the way around the world in one night. Surely Rudolph was the cleverest, the handsomest reindeer, if the truth be known. Gene Autry—a cowboy we knew well from TV reruns—would croon “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in a friendly voice too smooth to believe. And yet—at ages seven, five and three, respectively, oh how Becky, plump and happy, and I, dark and reserved, and Tim, red-haired and feisty, believed.
We would debate the nature of Santa's toy-bag. Was it like a spring, ever refreshed from inside? What if it fell off that flying sled and landed in our yard? Would we be able to open and keep the thousands of presents? Would they flow from the bag on Christmas morning, covering our yard and house? How did Santa visit so many houses? There must be hundreds in Tennessee alone? Maybe even more where Daddy worked, in Knoxville. Which was bigger, Knoxville or America or Tennessee? And there were other places. There was Africa, where Tarzan lived, and Briceville, where Grandma and Grandpa lived, and there was Sparta, where Granny lived with Aunts Linda and Lila and Uncle Sonny. And there was Dodge City and Texas and California, where cowboys rode horses and there was the moon and Mars, where monsters lived.
Yes, the world was much larger then. There was no end to the places Santa must visit, but visit them he did with Rudolph's help. And I remember Daddy put that record about Rudolph on for us and we ran and danced hand in hand, round the room, clockwise across the floor, up and bouncing across one twin bed, skipping back to the floor, over the other twin bed, back to the floor, falling, twirling, jumping, dancing round and round until the whole world spun like that 33 rpm record in the blue Victrola in this eternal Christmastime universe--twirling in breathless bliss—three siblings hand in hand, going round and round to revel in true magic—working ourselves up, flushed and sweating, laughing and dreaming out loud, intoxicated by Christmastime.
Believe me when I tell you that in some other blink in time's majesty—come see--we're twirling still.