Santa opened the trunk of the Cadillac and removed the presents. I watched him from my bedroom window, looking down through the branches of the big oak tree that was home to the flying gray squirrel. I was supposed to be asleep, but it was Christmas Eve, and a bright moon lit up my room and Santa’s sleigh.

So that’s how they did it, I thought. Cadillac Seville. That’s how they keep Santa’s secret. That’s how all those packages appear under the tree with wrapping paper that is different from any of the paper Mom buys and I use to help her wrap gifts. Nine years old. I didn’t believe in Santa, but I perpetuated the Santa story for my 3-year-old brother. Now I knew how Santa operated. I had caught him in the act. I was an inveterate gift sleuth, always looking in closets and drawers for hidden treasures. Yet, as good as I was, I would never have thought to look in the trunk of Dad’s car.

The next year I helped Santa. He let me stay up late and sneak out the back door in my candy cane pajamas and warm winter coat. It was another clear December night. No hope for snow – again. We unlocked the trunk of Santa’s shiny steel sleigh. It was deep and good for hiding presents that had been wrapped by Santa’s secretary-helper in bright paper filled with reindeers and snowmen. I gladly bore these gifts into the house and arranged them under the tree. Santa kissed me goodnight, and I promised to be surprised by Santa’s visit the next morning.

Every Christmas morning Dad, in his cotton pajamas and blue daddy robe, would turn on those spotlights – four big white bulbs attached to a long piece of wood – and hold them up with one hand while steadying the movie camera with the other. “Merry Christmas,” he would say. Both pieces of equipment had been checked and laid out the night before behind his favorite easy chair in the living room that opened up at the bottom of the winding staircase. “You can come down now,” he would say, and the little heads that had been waiting at the top of the steps would start toward the tree.

My older sister and I, dressed in matching holiday pajamas and nightcaps holding our pin curls in place, walked down the steps. “Oh Dad,” sister invariably said, shielding her eyes and covering her head. She never liked the camera. Baby brother, in footy pajamas, ran down the steps past the glare of the lights to the tree. It was a long-needled pine, wearing big multicolored lights that had been woven into the branches by Dad, ornaments of all shapes and sizes, and tinsel that Mom had strategically placed strand-by-strand. The fire crackled and the room smelled sweet.

Presents filled the room. And so did Dad’s lights, catching everyone in their frenzy and grogginess. Mom disliked the camera, too, turning away each time it turned on her. I happily presented my gifts, demonstrating how the Charmin Chatty Cathy doll talked or how snow skies might work outside of a carpeted room. Little brother ripped open packages, oblivious to the camera recording his history.

Mom brought out Sara Lee pecan coffee cake, warm and gooey from the oven, and small glasses of orange juice. This was our pre-church snack. Finally, Dad stopped making memories and opened each of his presents – a tie and tie clip, linen handkerchiefs and a pair of slippers – announcing after each one, “Oh look what I got!” He was as surprised and delighted by each gift, as if Santa had brought them himself.

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  • mary selover December 29, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    My father hid gifts in the car trunk, too. I never figured it out until he had me carry in a package for my mother as a freshmen in high school! I once also found a Playboy magazine in the trunk a while later when I was learning to drive. What a shock! My father! So strait-laced! Of course, now, this seems perfectly normal.

  • Kathleen Rawlings December 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I was disappointed every Christmas because I not only found the presents but could unwrap and rewrap them without my mother knowing anything was amiss. Santa never brought anything extra. How wonderful you had that great big “sleigh.”

    Merry Christmas.