When I was a kid, I wished and hoped that Santa could be real. By the age of 5, I knew that he wasn’t. In a drunken rage brought on by poverty and hopelessness, my mother proclaimed for all to hear that there was no Santa, that she was the Santa and that Santa didn’t have a damn dime.
As cruel as this all sounds, it was a gift; one in a series of backwards proposals of motivation for the things to come.
Undeterred by the words of a woman who worked 12 hour shifts in a nursing home overcrowded with elderly patients with money but no memories, I somehow understood that my mother’s ability to believe had been stolen from her. Raising seven children on your own with little formal education or support will do that to you.
At night, I’d wish on the star outside my window. I wished that my mother would stop drinking, that I’d one day I’d have a father and that I would be able to leave that place and go to college.
“Star light, star bright, the first star I see tonight,” I’d say the first part out loud but the wishes I kept to myself. My siblings would laugh and mock me, but I kept on wishing and I kept on praying.
Then one year, a man named Mr. John was sweet on my mother. That Christmas, I got my first real present. Before then, I’d get fruit and nuts, pajamas and underwear. There were new socks and if things were a bit better, my mother would be able to get us a sweater from Goodwill and maybe even a coat.
“Be grateful for everything,” my sober mother would say. “You have life and health; we are all together with a roof over our heads.”
The smell of turkey filled our home and I had expected more pajamas and underwear, but I was elated to see that my mom and Mr. John had gotten me the one thing I wrote down in a letter to Santa. I was 12 at the time but I still needed to believe.
There under the tree that had been purchased early that Christmas morning, “Cause they are cheaper that way,” was my red typewriter.
I wrote on it every day and prayed that Mr. John would hit one of the numbers he played, be my daddy and send me to college.
But as my mother would say, “If wishes were horses everybody would ride.”
Mr. John did something my mother didn’t like and she sent him away. The ribbon on my typewriter ran out of ink and I couldn’t get another one.
I stopped wishing and started working but I didn’t give up my dream.
My mother did stop drinking, and then one Christmas as a present, she stopped smoking too. A stranger named Terry Evenson became my benefactor and helped me go to college. I met him at my graduation, and from that day on, he became a father to me, and Pop-Pop Terry to my children.
He and my mother are gone; they died just one year apart. They are in that cloud of witnesses that I talk to each night when I look up at the stars.
This Christmas Eve, gather with your loved ones or call them on the phone. Tell them that you love them, that you are glad that they are well, under a roof, not hungry and healthy.
Give love to someone who wants it and lend a hand to someone who needs help.
Keep wishing, hoping and praying and never stop believing.
Be you, be well, be joy.
Bertice Berry, PhD.