By Susie Christian

Jane was an only child who firmly believed in Santa Claus. Her parents informed her that Santa Claus always brought "only children" who were very, very good, way more presents than the children with siblings received. And sure enough there always had been lots more presents under the tree for her on Christmas morning, courtesy of Santa Claus of course. She remembered as far back as she could and her memories were of many, many packages heaped under the tree. Why they were piled up so high the gifts on top of the pile disappeared into the lowest tree branches. The stockings tacked to the fireplace mantle on Christmas Eve always bulged with many thrilling surprises on Christmas morning. In fact they were so stuffed with delightful lumpy objects that Santa always had to take the thumb-tack out of the largest stocking and lean it against the hearth.

In spite of being an only child, Jane wasnít what you would consider spoiled. She was very much loved and fussed over by her mother. Mom kept Janeís shiny chestnut hair immaculately coiffed into long, springy fat curls that resembled shiny sausages, and made fussy feminine dresses for her, with the old faithful Singer treadle sewing machine. But Jane loved the flowered pattern cowboy shirts best that her grandma sewed for her, fashioned of colorful, coarsely woven feed sacks. Mom bought her many dolls. But Jane promptly removed what they were wearing and lost their clothes forever. Jane would rather trek around after dad, target practice with her BB gun and build roads through the dirt with her fleet of toy trucks and road graders. Dolls with missing and improvised garments, held together by large conspicuous safety pins, always got to come along outside as observers, to help with the road construction projects.

But it looked like this Christmas was surely going to be different. It was Janeís eighth Christmas and it was the mid fifties. Her dad had lost his job. During the Second World War the place where he worked had kindly held his job for him. When he returned from duty after the war he was able to pick up where he left off in his position. Some years later another fruit packing firm bought the business where he worked. Because he worked in the office and the new owners had their own management, he was let go just before Thanksgiving.

Janeís parents didnít discuss the lay off much in front of her and she was told not to worry about it. It was super though having Dad at home to do projects with, when he wasnít out looking for work. But at night after Jane went to bed she could catch bits and snatches of Mom and Dadís concerned conversations as they worried over their finances. Even her young mind could grasp it was pretty serious. Her parents had just built a new house and the bills were pouring in. She could hear them discussing and fretting over which business would get paid first, the lumber-yard, the hardware store or the gas and electric.

It was the week before Christmas when Janeís parents had a little talk with her. They waited until after dinner and as Dad solemnly sipped his coffee he said, "You know that we have been having a tough time making ends meet since I have been out of work, donít you?" His tanned handsome face had concern etched into every feature.

Jane looked down at her shoes, studying the fox-tails that had attached themselves to her shoe laces earlier in the day and nodded a serious, "Yes, I know."

Dad continued, "Well I have to tell you that Santa Claus has also had a tough year too. Two of his reindeer have been ailing with the stomach flu, Rudolph has a bad head cold and his nose wonít light up, the lead elf in charge of toy production broke his arm after a fall in the snow and Mrs. Claus came down with a gout attack. Santa Claus had so many vet and Dr. bills this last year, he canít afford to bring anyone as many presents as he did last year. Plus his rickety old sleigh needs maintenance he canít afford, and he had to spend the money he would use to pay his toy part suppliers to make sleigh repairs."

Janeís eyes widened with worry as she looked up at her dad. "Y-y-you mean Santa isnít coming this year?" she stammered. A tear found its way out of her eye and slid down the side of her cheek. She stared at it as it soaked into her favorite, well-worn yellow Roy Rodgers sweatshirt.

Her father could see maybe he overdid it a bit with his sad piece of news. He added quickly, "Santa will always come at Christmas time, Jane. Always. You know that donít you honey? This year Santa is having trouble paying his bills, so he just wonít bring as many presents. Thatís all. Donít worry, because he will be here like always."

The next day, as the news of Santaís financial misfortunes set in with Jane, she and her mother went shopping for her dadís and grandparentís gifts. The purchases were smaller this year and not expensive at all. The gifts all fit into a few modest sized bags. Jane and her mom had been to the National Dollar Store, Woolworthís and Newberryís. Places they knew would be more reasonable than the bigger department stores. They spent half the day searching out and selecting just the right presents, at a price they could afford.

Janeís spirits began to lift some with the excitement of finding a pair of cuff links for a dollar, with ducks depicted on them for her father. She also noticed that Santa Claus was again making his appearance at Penneyís department store. Her mother asked Jane if she wanted to tell Santa what she would like him to bring her for Christmas.

The reply to that came with a heavy voice from Jane, "I think Santa has enough to think about this year without me asking him for more." She smiled and waved at Santa as they walked by, feeling very sorry indeed for the poor old fellow and all the troubles he was having.

She wouldnít let her mother know, but she also secretly felt like eight years old was a bit past the age for sitting on Santaís lap. Her dadís job misfortune seemed to push her prematurely into an adult mind set. The normal enthusiasm and excitement of Christmas day and all it brought were tempered by an underlying worry and concern for Santa Claus. For he was very real to Jane and she found herself thinking more of him and his plight than she was of her situation.

Christmas Eve finally arrived. Jane wasnít so certain she was glad to see it come this year. She was busy thinking about all those other children who were getting the minimal presents and perhaps stockings only half filled with goodies. And what about poor Santa Claus and all his troubles! With his ailing reindeer and a sleigh on the brink of falling apart, maybe he wouldnít even make it to all the homes after all. She left Santa Claus a generous plate-full of a dozen cookies, slices of Momís yummy fruit-cake and a choice of milk or Coca Cola. At least the poor old fellow would have some nice refreshments when he stopped at her house.

Janeís eyes came open before dawn on Christmas morning but she was afraid to get up. She just knew that Santa Claus hadnít visited her house. If that were so, then it meant he also didnít get to the other childrenís houses all over the world either. She felt worse for them than she did for herself. Jane lay there for the longest time until she finally heard her parents talking in the kitchen. Figuring it was now safe to take a look, because she knew her Mom and Dad would at least have a present under the tree for her, she tip toed out into the living room. To her wide-eyed amazement there were just as many presents under the tree as always. Santa had obviously been there and filled the small stockings up, and sure enough the large one was stuffed to the top and propped against the fireplace. He had eaten all the cookies and cake and the glass of milk was also emptied. Only crumbs were left behind in the plate along with a thank you note signed "Santa Claus".

"Where did all this come from?" Jane rejoiced. "I thought Santa was having a bad year like us."

Dad offered, "I heard that Mrs. Claus had been saving money all year long in her cookie jar. She paid for the sleigh repairs and some of the folks Santa owed money to, so he could get around to all the children in the world like always. He just couldnít stand to see all the good little kids go without presents."

That was enough of an answer for Jane as she ripped into first one present then another, only stopping when she was done emptying the last stocking. There was everything imaginable there. She oohed over a Terry Lee doll with western garb to match her own. There were new toy cars, a big truck and a trailer to haul rocks in, colored pencils and two drawing pads, a teddy bear, and an Etch-a-Sketch, a new Mr. Potato Head kit and lots of candy. Everything she secretly wished for and more.

"When are Grandma and Grandpa coming?" she called out, wanting to share her new dump truck with her grandpa, who was an auto mechanic. She called him Pa from the time she couldnít pronounce Grand-pa. Pa was a special man in Janeís life. He was always loads of fun and she loved him dearly.

It somehow didnít matter that Pa always drank too much. He was fun when he drank and he had the biggest heart in the world. Jane heard Grandma tell a story about how Pa had this favorite bar he always stopped at on his way home from work. Several months ago he bought a pair of shoes for a lady of the night who frequented his bar, because her shoes had holes in them and he felt sorry for her. He didnít make a lot of money at his job but if he had any, he would share with anyone who was in need.

Jane remembered when she went to visit Pa and Grandma he would have her go get a Burgermeister beer for him from Grandmaís old ice box. When she carefully fetched the can, he showed her how to puncture it carefully with two holes so it wouldnít foam over the top. Then Pa would play the harmonica and Grandma sang. Jane would laugh and dance on the slippery-clean worn linoleum kitchen floor and the two Great Dane dogs would howl and cover their ears. That was the ultimate in fun!

But where were Pa and Grandma though? It was nearing noon-time and they were two hours late for the Christmas present exchange. Just as Jane went to the window to look for the umpteenth time, she saw País familiar old gray í42 Chevy creeping up the circular driveway, lumbering along like an ancient gray whale, parting the heavy tulle fog in its path. She ran out to greet them as fast as her eight-year old legs would carry her.

"Pa! Grandma! Merry Christmas! Where have you been? Santa Claus came and you should see what he brought me!" Jane yelled out at the top of her lungs.

Grandma rolled her eyes toward Pa in mild disgust and said, "Well dear, Pa had to go down to Farettaís Tavern and have a Christmas toddy with his buddies this morning. He completely lost track of what time it was."

With a guilty look on his face Pa explained, "Honey I went down to the watering hole because I had a present there to check on for you."

Grandma and Jane looked at one another with a shared question in the long look they exchanged. "What in the world kind of present would you have for Jane that would come from Farettaís bar?" Grandma asked in a tone of amazement.

Pa got that sheepish expression on his face that told them he had one drink too many already for a Christmas morning, and began to look over into the back seat. "I know it must be in here somewhere." He said as he strained to look over the seat.

Grandma and Jane had the same thought. Pa was trying to throw them off. Diversionary tactics. But when he got out of the car, opened the back door and began to look under the seat they thought he might be looking in earnest for something. Jane thought maybe he had found a puppy or a kitten, since he was hinting at it being a living thing that was hiding under the seat.

"Here it is," he shouted, "Come help me catch her, Jane!"

Jane bent down and peered under the front car seat. She strained her eyes to see a small creature with feathers, cowering against the under part of the front seat. The small red shape was huddled tight and jammed between several empty half pint bottles of Old Grandad. "Itís a bird!" Jane exclaimed. She bravely but slowly reached in and gently put her hands around the birdís body, inching it forward carefully.

By this time the second set of grandparents had arrived, Janeís parents also had come out to see what all the fuss was about. Just in time to see Jane extract the bird from under País seat. She held the bird in her arms, completely stunned by the reds and blues that glowed as bright as a fiery Christmas ember through the fog that day. "Can I keep it?" Jane immediately asked her mom. "Please, please, I will take really good care of it. I promise!"

Her mother looked at her dad as if they were both looking for an excuse to tell her no. Her mother spoke first, "Where did it come from?"

Pa explained, "It flew into the street one day about a month ago, right in front of the bar. My buddy Buster just walked right up to it and it stepped into his hands like it knew him all along. Buster wrapped it up in his shirt and took it into the bar. Then Lloyd went home to get his rabbit hutch to keep it in, while we knocked on doors in the neighborhood looking for the owner. Why we even advertised in the local newspaper for three weeks and no one answered the ad. I figured we did all we could and when I saw the bird was still there this morning, I just thought Iíd bring it along and give her to my favorite girl in the world." Jane would never forget the size of the grin Pa had on his face that day. He loved putting one over on people.

There was no argument. Janeís parents couldnít refuse a home to such a beautiful creature. Besides, Janeís mother had two Canaries for years and she did love birds.

"Letís take her in the house and see if she is hungry!" Jane cried out, now certain this new treasure would be hers. "What should we name her?" She asked.

"How about Topsy." Offered Grandma. "Thatís a happy, wonderful old fashioned name." Jane agreed with her and Topsy it became.

The rest of that Christmas day Jane spent getting to know her new parrot, admiring the rich red color of her hair-like feathers, the seemingly painted on bib of color that made a semi-circle on her breast and a blue eye ring that was so perfectly penciled on even Mom couldnít draw one that good with her make up brush. Toward evening Jane realized there were heaps of toys in the living room she hadnít even looked at all day long. Somehow all those toys she had worried so much about getting werenít even in her thoughts. This gorgeous, living, breathing creature had captured her heart completely.

The day after Christmas Dad built Topsy a huge cage, and she got to live at the end of the kitchen table where she could beg for table scraps with those sad, longing, blue rimmed eyes that no one could resist. As Topsyís wings grew back in fully, she could fly around the kitchen at will to visit any new guests and see if they brought her a treat, which they usually did. She especially liked to roost on top of the kitchen stove hood, where it was warm and comfy when the stove was not in use. When Mom used the stove, Topsy then went to play and rattle around in the bottom cupboard with the pots and pans.

Topsy was not only exquisitely beautiful but she also proved to be a good listener. Jane confided daily all of her deepest secrets to Topsy, instead of recording the dayís events in a diary. Topsy was the diary! She listened attentively and never repeated a thing to anyone. She got to hear about the time Jane got a "C" on her report card and was afraid to show Mom. Topsy knew about Janeís first boyfriend before anyone else. She also got to hear Janie cry for days with a broken heat when they split up. Topsy was worried too every time Jane noticed a blemish on her face and seemed to understand it all. The only thing Topsy didnít understand was when Jane went away to college. Mom and Dad gave her lots of attention and special foods she loved, but she really missed Jane and looked for her to come in the door whenever she heard a car in the drive.

Topsyís second happiest day in her life was when Jane came home from college with a fiancťe and told Topsy she was coming along with her to their new home. We donít have to guess what Topsyís first most happy day was! It was that magical Christmas in the mid fifties that a slightly tipsy Pa, in his infinite wisdom and kindness, came driving up the foggy-frozen driveway with that glowing red treasure under his car seat, waiting to become the best friend Jane ever knew. Topsy Eclectus!


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Last Updated December 18, 2002