I was reaching the age when I was beginning to doubt that Santa Claus was real.
It was the day before Christmas Eve, and since our entire family would be joining us at our house for Christmas Day, there were plenty of chores for each of us to do. My brother and I were assigned to haul a heavy chain up onto the roof and lower it into the chimney, in order to loosen the heavy build-up of soot and ash. This of course had to be done just a day before company arrived.
My brother and I went down into the house to shovel out the debris into old Tab soda boxes, followed by burying the ash in the pasture. The ash covered our shoes, and you could clearly see the outline of our sneakers on the floors from the numerous trips that we made in and out of the house. My mother told me to make sure that I opened and closed the flue several times so that any collected debris would fall down.
While I was doing my final inspection, I noticed how narrow the opening was and thought, “There is no way that man (Santa) can fit in here!” I, taking responsibly for all children across the world, decided to shut the flue and leave it shut! In my mind, my brave act would prove that there was not a creepy old man dressed in bright colors, wedging his way down chimneys. I mean, really, how stupid did adults think we were? I knew it was my parents or my grandparents sneaking presents in from their hiding places. I just knew it!
On Christmas morning, the four of us ran upstairs, our feet coming in contact with merely three of the 16 steps. On other days, Mom would always yell to us, “Don’t gather up the stairs!” Christmas morning was the only time we had an unspoken clearance to “gather.” When we emerged from the top of the stairs, we found a room full of presents. Then, collectively we noticed large boot prints of ash coming out of the fireplace, across the entire room and then again back to the fireplace. I immediately ran over and looked up into the chimney to find that the flue had been opened!
Feeling defeated, I kept the fact that I was trying to debunk Santa to myself. Years later, my mother shared with me that she had been watching me from the kitchen that day and could actually see my mind twirling as I was deep in thought, preparing for my brave undertaking. So in response, Mom took a pair of Dad’s 15½-size boots, dabbed them in ash and walked them one-by-one onto the carpet…after of course opening the flue.
Kenneth McKenzie is the owner of McKenzie Mortuary in Long Beach.