RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Aging photographs suggest what fading memory can't retrieve

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

I’m getting a little dotty in my dotage and can spend entire days trying to remember inconsequential things that nobody in her right mind would forget.
I cannot, for instance, remember a single visit with Santa Claus.
Now I know what you’re thinking. With war, drought, pestilence and Sarah Palin dusting off her mascara wand for another run toward Lincoln’s Bedroom, what difference does it make if I can’t remember sitting on the Big Man’s lap? Why don’t I address the Big Issues?
I’ve decided it’s best to leave matters of consequence to the same Middle-Age White Men in Gray Suits with Furrowed Brows (MAWMGSFBs) who were on America’s op-ed pages when I was a teenager and who remain there now. If George Will and David Broder can’t figure it out in 40 years, who am I to try?
I’ve always believed in Santa Claus, and nothing has happened to shake that belief. For at least eight years I had a literal interpretation of Santa, which means, conservative estimate here, I must have been marched to his lap at least seven times.
I am a worrier. And I don’t do well in social situations. I worry about what I’ll say to the mail carrier if she happens to drive by just as I’m checking the mailbox for catalogs. I worry about hurting the feelings of telephone solicitors by responding abruptly.
There’s no way I wouldn’t have agonized over what to say to Santa. I would have wanted my wish list to be perfectly clear, brand names and sizes explicit.
I would have thought out how to respond when he asked that trite and unavoidable question: Have you been a good girl?
“Define good,” I might have considered as a reply. “If by ‘good’ you mean no bank robberies or cat strangling in the past 12 months, I’ve been excellent.”
But I don’t remember any of these deliberations, nor last-minute panic as the line grew short enough to smell the mothballs on his red velvet. Nothing. No memories of being hauled away kicking and screaming – that is the stuff of David Sedaris essays and not my style – or sitting blankly trying to recite a long list that nerves had deleted from my curly brown head. Nothing.
There are photographs to prove I was not deprived. At least I think there are. Most of the photos in my parents’ scrapbooks are of my older sister, JoAnne, the first child. As everyone knows, first children get their pictures taken a lot more than subsequent brats. There are photographs of JoAnne, aka Little Miss Colquitt, playing a toy piano, cutting a birthday cake, cradling various dolls, generally looking precious for the Brownie camera.
But, if failing memory serves, there is one black-and-white shot of both JoAnne and me sitting on the ample lap of a department-store Santa in Florida. We look worried but determined to take care of business.
I imagine when it came my turn I said something like: “Sweet Sue, not Baby Sweet Sue. Puzzles, animal ones. Tea set. Surprises.”
You always said “surprises” – at least I think you always said “surprises” – lest inventory lapses at Santa’s workshop left you with nothing on Christmas morning. I don’t really remember, but like to think I was smart enough to cover my corduroy bottom.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist who lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.