About half a month ago, I had mentioned the wonderful upper peninsula of Michigan and how during my childhood, I had a lot of fond memories of snow and a lot of less fond memories about being sick and throwing more times than I care to count. Looking back on it now, I see that my parents were just doing the best they could to iron clad my immune system as a young child by exposing me to different strains of germs all year round. Thanks to them, I haven't thrown up in over six years because every time my body gets the flu or whatever, it laughs at how weak those germs are compared to the probably eight different flu strains I would fight off visiting my 25+ (at the time. This number has since gone up) cousins all those years back.
I paid for this superpower with somewhat less enjoyable Christmases my first half decade or so of life. I can say truthfully that I don't even remember most of those years, so it is totally a trade off I can agree with. Plus, one year I saw Santa and everything! Ok, no, that's a lie. I only saw Santa - not one single reindeer.
Before all of my siblings were born, my family used to go up to Michigan for Christmas a lot. This year, the year before my first brother was born, it was just me and my sister. We got up to Michigan a few days before Christmas, and I had a blast the first day, playing out in the snow outside until my mom deemed it necessary for me to come in and warm up my hands.
I was about three and I was tired from a long day of play, so I happily agreed to go inside. We were at my grandparent's house, which was a wonderfully old relic of the UP's copper mining days. The house wasn't big by any means - the first floor had a small kitchen, living room, sitting area and the only bathroom in the house (and did I mention that my mom grew up in this house with seven siblings? They knew the meaning of patience).
When you first entered the house, the entry way could lead straight through to the kitchen, you could turn right into the living room, or you could go up the steep, steep stairs that probably break some sort of building code these days. The first time I went up those stairs, I was so scared to go back down that my parents finally had to have me sit down and slide my way off each step to the next one.
That day, I went into the living room after shedding my snow-covered outerwear and sat down on the couch for a few minutes, thinking about what to do next. I heard my mom go down the short hallway to the kitchen.
And then The Feeling struck. You know? That awful feeling you get when your stomach decides that whatever it has inside it needs to come back up? The Feeling you get when your body lets you know that the next few moments are going to be less than pleasant for you.
I moved quickly. I went from the living room through the small sitting area to the other entrance of the kitchen, where my mom was sitting at the table with my grandma and dad, drinking hot chocolate.
"I don't feel good." I managed, and then threw up all over the linoleum.
That Christmas found me lying on the couch in the living room, wrapped up in my grandma's warm homemade blankets. I vaguely remembered that there was presents, and I tried to be excited for them, but I didn't have the strength to go to the tree and look. My mom brought me my present from under the tree, but even then, I found I didn't have the energy to open it, so she opened it for me and I kind of smiled at the toy but really I was just falling back asleep.
Several years later, when I found out that (spoiler alert) Santa is not real, I had this following conversation with my mom:
Me: Well I guess that makes sense, but there is an issue. I remember seeing Santa one year.
Mom: When was that?
Me: You know, when I was three or something and really sick, so I spent the night on the couch instead of upstairs. I kept waking up during the night and then one time, when I opened my eyes, I saw Santa putting presents under the tree. I remember the bright red outfit.
My mom looked confused and then laughed. She said, "You know how I own that red sweatshirt?"
I nodded. The "five star sweatshirt" was a favorite and my dad loved to say my mom wore it because she rated all five stars. The five star wife and mom.
"I had a pair of red sweatpants that I would wear too, and I was wearing those when we were up north that year. I hate to say it, but I think all you saw was me."
My mind worked to process this. Yes, it made sense that a fever-hazed brain would convert that image in such a way. It was a logical leap to be expecting Santa all in red and assuming anyone who wore red and put presents under the tree was therefore him. A little bit of magic seemed to silently drain away from the holiday, but it was quickly replaced by a realization.
"Does that mean that I can eat some of the cookies we leave out after everyone else goes to bed?!"
I have since inherited the red sweatshirt and though it is old and worn out, it's one of my favorite sweatshirts to wear during the holiday season.