unwrapped, and sometimes clumped
We never looked at the station wagon
license plate to see if it said North Pole.
We didn’t tug on Santa’s beard to see if
it was real. We never knew how much of
the town our Santa covered—only that
he made us feel special. We held this tradition sacred, and we did not question
our good luck.
But the December I was 12, everything changed.
As always, a pack of us had gone
caroling down Patton Place and around
Woodbury Drive. We piled on as much
clothing as our mothers demanded
and zigzagged along the street. At each
house, we sang the carols the people
requested, and they gave us treats.
Then we headed to the Neils’ house.
All the girls had a crush on their son,
even though we hardly knew him.
Blushing furiously, we sang our best
songs for the boy and his parents. When
we were through, Mr. Neil beamed as
he handed each of us a brightly printed
box filled with peppermint ribbon
candies, unwrapped and stuck together
in clumps. The youngest kids happily
examined their gifts, but the rest of us
held them gingerly, as if something suspicious had been dropped in our hands.
We stared hard at Mr. Neil, noticing his
merry blue eyes and the gray curls at his
temples. And there—in the driveway—
was that familiar station wagon.
When our night finally ended with
Mom ladling cocoa for all the carolers
from a giant pot on the stove, the little
ones recounted the highlights, but the
rest of us were quiet.
A few days later, while biking past
the Neils’ house, I caught a glimpse of
the sparkling red sleigh tucked into the
Mr. Neil continued his tradition for
20 years, long after my gang had been
replaced by a new generation of kids. A
few years ago, when I heard he’d died, I
got a lump in my throat almost identical to the one I felt when he came to the
door that winter when I was 12. Mr. Neil
will always be Santa to me. ■
Kathy Anne Cowie is married and the
mother of two girls. She lives in Ridgewood and shares ribbon candy with her
family every Christmas.
THE DECEMBER I WAS 12 began like
every other I had known. This was
Wyckoff 1976, pre-Jonas Brothers.
We skated at a makeshift ice rink
in a frozen parking lot, admired the
decorations along Franklin Avenue
and coveted the toys crammed in the
window of Grants Variety Store. For
most people in Bergen County, the
giant Santa perched on a chimney in
the middle of the Garden State Plaza
shopping mall in Paramus heralded the
Christmas season. But on my street,
Patton Place, the holidays didn’t start
until our own Santa came, one who
would bring a special kind of treat.
In those days, our lives revolved
around candy. My mother rarely
bought sweets, so my older brothers
would make furtive trips to the gas-station gumball machine at the end of
the street. After Halloween we were
flush, but by Christmas our supplies
Then Santa would come to our
street, a nondescript station wagon
pulling his sparkling sleigh. Clanging
bells and blaring carols announced his
arrival. We’d sing along with the tinny
music and chase the gifts Santa tossed
us: brightly printed boxes filled with
peppermint ribbon candies, loose and
Keeping the magic in one neighborhood’s
Yuletide tradition. By Kathy Anne Cowie