“Well, I’ll tell you the way it happened . . . though it probably won’t seem as funny to you. It’s just our Joey.
“Joey was born in November, so we had a birthday party for him. Everybody laughing, giving him presents, telling him what a big boy he was, having him blow out candles–made quite an impression on him. By the end of the evening, when people asked, ‘How old are you, Joey?’ he’d hold up four fingers, two on each hand, with a big smile, and say, ‘Four,’ just like I’d shown him. But they were also telling him, ‘And next month’ll be Christmas, Joey. That’ll be even better.’
“We were all telling him about Santa Claus, of course. And this year he was listening. He even met Santa Claus. You should have seen his eyes when he told me about this big man, in a big red suit, with a big white beard, sitting in a big ‘sleigh.’ ‘See the nice sleigh,’ his mother had told him, ‘Just like Santa rides in on Christmas night!’ and he had really latched onto that word. He told me how the sleigh had bells all over it, that Santa Claus kept shaking, as he went ‘Ho, Ho, Ho.’ You may have seen the set-up they have for Santa there in Macy’s, where Joey’s mother took him, a kind of sleigh, with steps up one side and down the other, to handle the line of kids.
“Joey hadn’t been sure he wanted to go up close to this strange man at all, but Mary had insisted, of course, was more excited about it than Joey was, so they stood in line with other children and their mothers until they came right up to the steps into the sleigh. Mary said this Santa Claus was a big man, all right, a lot bigger than I am, and had a deep and kind of growlly voice. The little boy ahead of them actually broke out crying and refused to sit on his lap, just went right down the steps on the other side, almost embarrassing his poor mother to tears of her own.
“Joey wasn’t that bad, but Mary could tell he didn’t like the looks of things. He just clammed up, like he sometimes does here at home. The Santa Claus said, ‘Come on little boy—I won’t bite you,’ and went ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ again as he simply picked Joey up and plopped him on his lap.
“Joey didn’t cry; he just clamped his lips shut tight. Mary really got a kick out of telling me about it. When the Santa asked, ‘What’s your name, little boy?’ he didn’t answer , but Mary said, ‘Joey.’ Then he asked, ‘Well, how old are you, Joey?’ and Joey held up his four fingers, but with a big sober frown, as his mother smiled and nodded. The Santa laughed and said, ‘Four years old, are you? And such a big boy!’ And then he asked, ‘And what do you want for Christmas, Joey?’
“Joey never said a thing, just stared at those whiskers and clamped his lips together even tighter. After the Santa had asked again, and got no answer, he asked Mary. But she said, ‘Gee, I don’t know. We’ll have to trust you, Santa. You always know what little boys want, don’t you?’
“The Santa gave a real big laugh then, another ‘Ho, Ho, Ho,’ shaking Joey up and down all over the place, and said, ‘Of course I do. I know exactly what Joey wants, don’t I, Joey? And I’ll bring it Christmas night.’
“On the way home, Mary told Joey about how Santa Claus could fly through the air in that sleigh, pulled by eight reindeer from the North Pole, bringing presents to little children on Christmas night.
‘“How can he do that?’ Joey wanted to know. ‘Up in the air? That’s like a sled, for on snow, not an airplane.’
“‘He has magic powers,’ she told him. ‘And he comes down the chimney with the presents. So we’ll put out cookies and apple cider for him that night. Daddy will tell you all about it.’ So she set me up for reading The Night Before Christmas to him.
“We have all of our decorations up early in December, and had plenty of presents under the Christmas tree. Many of them for Joey, of course. We told him that he could touch them, but not shake them—the same rules as when we were kids. ‘But what about the present Santa Claus is going to bring?’ he kept asking.
“‘He’ll bring that down the chimney Christmas night.’
“Joey would look at the chimney, and then remember that big fat Santa whose lap he had sat on. ‘How can he do that?’ he asked.
“‘I told you he has magic powers. He can do anything. He can change his shape if he has to. You’ll see,’ his mother would answer.
“Then it was Christmas night. I did read him The Night Before Christmas, about how Santa Claus would go ‘up on the housetop, Ho, Ho, Ho,’ and then come down the chimney. So then Joey wanted to see it, and, after a short consultation about a four-year-old’s staying power, we told him that he could stay up and watch if he wanted to.
“He helped us put out the cider and cookies for Santa Claus, and personally made sure that the fireplace was clear and clean. We do use it—had had a fire in it the night before. He asked, ‘What if we had a fire? What would Santa Claus do?’ We told him not to worry about Santa Claus, that he could take care of himself. As a final touch we hung Joey’s stocking from the fireplace mantel. That’s just about the time he fell asleep and I carried him off to bed.
“We knew what Santa was bringing him, of course, a two-month old Shitzu-Poodle puppy that one of the guys at work got for us, and brought by about mid-night. We had a devil of a time settling him down, and finally did just put him in the fireplace opening, with the screen in front, in a little basket with bells around the edges, wearing the little red doggie sweater Mary had made for him.
“He made noise enough, right through the night, that we were afraid he would wake Joey, but we finally went to sleep ourselves, intending to get up early and then bring Joey down for the surprise.
“I was awakened by Mary, who was laughing out loud, and told me, ‘You just have to see this!’ She led me into the family room, where Joey was standing by the fireplace, feeding one of Santa’s cookies to the puppy and telling him, ‘You had to change into a little puppy to get down the chimney, didn’t you? Then I bet you couldn’t get out! Ho, Ho, Ho!’ He looked up at us and smiled. Talk about pure bliss!
“We tried to explain it to him a dozen different ways, but he couldn’t see how else that puppy could have gotten trapped in our fireplace. And Mary just thought it was great, tells the story to all her friends, and bursts out laughing all over again when she tells them how Joey said, ‘His hair is still the same color, isn’t it?’ and then adds, ‘And it is—the same color as that Santa Claus’s beard in the store. And he has the same expression on his face!’ That’s what she thinks is funniest, the expression on the puppy’s face.
“Anyway, that’s why we call our dog Santa Claus. Mary had even made him a little red sweater for when it’s cold. And, while it wasn’t my idea, I’m used to it now. Joey has just about convinced me that that’s how that dog got there. Had to be!”