By Bill Willson
I was four almost five. It was 1940, my dad was a recovering alcoholic working on a WPA project, and we were poor, but I didn’t know any of that stuff. It was the first year ever in which I had any type of real memories. We lived in the little house in a lane in West Berkeley, California. We spent almost a whole year there. I know this because I remember the rainy days of spring, before my fourth Birthday, Easter, the Fourth of July, and CHRISTMAS. The next spring when I turned five we were in another place. A whole year doesn’t sound like much, but for a kid only four, a year is a significant chunk of living. Ah, but what I want to tell about is my best Christmas, when I was a little child, and still believed in magic. I want to tell you about the first Christmas I remember, and Santa’s First Visit to my house.
When we moved into this small, brown shingle, two story cottage, in the lane, I was already a runabout. On the east end of the lane on the corner of 7th and University, was a plumbing store. The men who worked there were very friendly and they liked me, everyone liked me, I was Billy Willson. They would talk to me, and answer my questions as I watched them work in the shop that bordered our lane behind the store. There was a barber shop next to the plumbing store. The barber and I were good friends, even though he never cut my hair. Dad did that. I liked the smells that came from these two places. I visited them regularly, as I made my daily rounds in the neighborhood. There were several other places around the block that I would stop off and visit. There was an elderly couple who lived on the corner at the top of the hill, the mothers of some of my playmates, Joey’s old grandmother, and a nice lady next-door. I guess I was quite a talker; people liked my visits with them. I especially liked to stop where they gave me cookies or fruit, I never asked, they just gave them to me.
On Christmas Eve, my 23 year old brother Buddy came home to visit, and to show us his “new” car, a 1934 Ford Roadster, with a rumble seat. After dinner the family decorated our small Christmas tree set up on top of a card table, so it could be seen through the front window, by passers-by in the lane. Buddy and my 14 year old sister Leora had fun putting the tinsel on and arguing about just how and where it should go. I helped too, and the tree was beautiful when we were done.
Mom and Dad had very few presents to put under the tree that year, but I didn’t care, Santa would be there soon. Buddy took us all for a ride up in the hills to see the Christmas lights in Piedmont. There were a lot of big houses with brilliant displays of trees, colored lights, and beautiful Christmas scenes. When we got back it was way past my bedtime, but on the lighted front porch I saw a pile of stuff. When I discovered Santa had come, I came wide awake and was too excited to go to sleep. I was told Santa probably couldn’t get in the house because we didn’t have a chimney. There were a few wrapped presents for the family, and lots of things for me. He brought me a Radio Flyer wagon, a scooter, some new clothes, and a big sock filled with fruit, nuts, and candy, a coloring book with Crayons, and some modeling clay. I think our little family went to sleep that cold winter night, feeling the warmth and magic of Christmas. I don’t recall going to sleep.
I was up bright and early Christmas day. Mom let me put on my new clothes. I loaded all my treasure into my wagon, tied it to the back of my scooter, and pulled it around the block to show all my friends. With my perfect 20/20 adult hindsight I have a feeling they already knew what I had received from Santa, but they never let on. I went to show my stuff to the guys in the plumbing shop, and the barber the next day, they too acted surprised.
This special memory lingers deep in my subconscious to resurface every December and make me notice all the tantalizing sights, sounds, and smells of this magical time of year. I especially notice all the children as they look with wonder at the magic in the store windows or lights on a tree. My little boy heart is free again, to think about the Christmas when jolly old Saint Nick, brought the fun he and his elves created, in the toy-shop at the North Pole, to my house. I guess even now, seventy-three years later, I still believe in the magic of Santa’s First Visit. More importantly, I recognize among the bright lights and tinsel, the true spirit of Christmas symbolized by God’s gift given to all of the world two thousand years ago.