It was the Christmas when I was six years old, and when a boy is six years old it seems like Christmas will never come, and when it comes there seems no way it will bring with it snow, and if there is no snow, then where will Santa land his sleigh and team?
But that particular year, on the eve of that particular Christmas, the sky was filled with clouds, and the air was crisp and cold, the kind of crisp and cold that made my breath appear as a cloud before my face and so my young father said it was so cold that our words might freeze in mid-air if we dared to speak even the words “Merry” and “Christmas.”
Quietly we walked home from the store where my father had bought a quart of egg nog and Christmas cookies — and quietly we walked up the metal stairs of unit number 12 in that three-story brick apartment block in a public-housing complex called Mulford Gardens off St. Joseph’s Avenue in my old hometown of Yonkers, New York.
And when we entered our apartment, there was my Grandpa Nash! He was my mother’s father and he was really old — he would have been about sixty-nine years old at the time. Grandpa Nash smoked cigars. He liked to eat liverwurst and limburger cheese. He liked to watch boxing bouts on TV. He listened to old 78 rpm records by Crosby and Jolson and the Great Caruso. He wore long camel-hair dress coats and always wore a fedora. His wife — my mother’s mother — had died fifteen years before. When my Grandpa Nash came to visit, he always gave me and my sister a dollar bill and a bag of M&M candies. I loved my Grandpa Nash.
Around 7 o’clock, reluctantly, I went to bed. Around 9 o’clock, almost unbearably excited about the imminent arrival of Christmas, I fell alsleep, albeit with great difficulty and after at least one gentle scolding from my mother as she caught me peeking out of my bedroom door to see if Santa had visited.
I awoke at about five o’clock that Christmas morning. It was still dark. I walked out to the living room. The tree’s colored lights were still lit — I’d implored my mother to leave the lights turned on, so Santa would be able to find our house.
Yes! Piles of presents were under the tree. I looked out the window — and it had snowed! On Christmas morning! In fact it had snowed so much that my parents had convinced my Grandpa Nash to spend the night — and there he was, snoring on the couch!
Colorful tree lights lighting the dark room. A foot of snow outside and frost on the windows. Grandpa Nash sleeping on the couch.
And a Cape Canaveral spaceport set up at the foot of the Christmas tree — for me!
I’d hoped against hope that Santa would leave me a Cape Canaveral Missile Base. My mother had warned me that lots of little boys hoped to get one and that Santa’s elves might not have been able to make enough…But there it was! Spaceport buildings! Miniature astronauts! Miniature Scientists! Flying saucers! Launching rigs! Fuel tanks! A four-stage rocket! Missiles propelled by springs and rubber bands!
A perfect day had become even more perfect. And then, as the Christmas turkey’s scent mingled with the perfume of the Christmas tree and my father’s Old Spice aftershave and the acrid woody aroma of my Grandpa Nash’s cigar, my mother bundled me up in a heavy coat and a hood and black rubber boots and mittens, and sent me outside to “get some fresh air.”
I stepped off the front door landing and down into snow that came up to my thigh! The air was cold but crisp like North Pole air.
Then my father came out to pull me on my sled, and as my father ran and pulled me on the sled, we left a mist of snow in our wake, and sunbeams shone through the cold white spray, and thousands of diamonds floated behind me on that perfect Christmas morn.