Working as a therapist in the public schools has taught me that there is more of everything during the holidays – more kind words, more smiles, more parties, and more sweets popping up randomly around the campus.
Unfortunately, for many of my students, the excesses are not so cheerful. If money is tight, then there is more concern over finances. If kids are on the free lunch program, then missing school means more missed meals. When tempers flare at home there is often more domestic violence, more substance abuse, more heartache, and more fear.
And yet, in the midst of it all, there is always love.
Sometimes it’s only a flicker. Sometimes a smoldering ember, but I’m always touched by the fundamental need kids have to connect with their parents, no matter how deep their conflicts with them run, to love them no matter what mistakes those important adults have made.
In my young adult novel, TAKE ME THERE, seventeen-year-old Dylan Dawson goes on a search for his long lost father who is in prison in Texas. His father is the one person who can tell Dylan the question burning in his soul – Is badness in his blood, or is it something he can outrun? While he’s on the road he’s reminded of the last bittersweet Christmas they spent together, when Dylan was six years old.
The following excerpt is from TAKE ME THERE, pages 81-83.
A semi truck honks and I realize I’ve drifted across the center stripe. The truck is all decked out with red and blue lights for the fourth of July. It brings back a long forgotten memory of Christmas, the year I turned six. I was supposed to be in bed, but I was up waiting and watching for my father or Santa Claus, whoever came first.
Dad had been gone a lot, making extra runs to California for his trucking company, working overtime for holiday money. He had promised me a brand new BMX bike, and I had no doubt he’d come through. He was always returning from the road with special presents for me and Mom—a cap gun for me, a new dress for her.
There was a boy up the hill I used to play with. Can’t remember his name. T.K., J.T., something like that. He was older than I was by a few years, and I must have annoyed him, but when you’re in the country, friends are few with lots of miles between. One day right after Thanksgiving we were making tunnels in the dirt out behind his house with our Hot Wheels, and I was bragging about how my mother was going to take me all the way to Austin to go see Saint Nick at the mall. He told me I was a baby for still believing in such things. “Don’t you know your Daddy is Santa Claus?” he said.
Christmas Eve Mom kept telling me to get into bed and stay there or else Santa would get mad and wouldn’t come to visit our house, but I didn’t care. My father never minded me waiting up for him so I figured if my Dad really was Santa, I was safe. If he was just some fat guy dressed in red, I’d take my chances.
Mom kept looking out the window, worried. It had started to snow, which it never did in Quincy, and the dirt road leading up to our house was getting icy.
Mom finally quit arguing with me and let me sit on the couch with her, watching out the window and holding my hand so tightly I thought she might crush the bones.
It was late and I’d fallen into that place between waking and dreaming when I heard the cuckoo clock belch out twelve long, shrieking bird calls. I looked out the window and saw the most amazing sight.
The huge outline of a sleigh all lit up in red and green and white, bigger than I ever imagined, rolled to a stop in front of our mobile home. There were no reindeer; it was powered by diesel and moved on wheels, eighteen of them. When I saw my father walking up the gravel driveway, pushing a new red bike, I turned to my mother and told her breathlessly, “It really is true. My daddy is Santa Claus.”
I ran outside and jumped on the bike, without even stopping to say hello. Then I road up and down the driveway in my pajamas, pumping my legs as fast as I could, catching snowflakes on my tongue. Feeling the cold wind biting through my Spider Man pajamas.
Up close you could tell it was a truck with lights arranged to look like a sleigh, so it was easy for me to understand how other kids got confused. I also understood why lately, my father had been so secretive about what he was keeping in the back of his truck.
It was about a month later that the police came and took my father to jail, and all my dreams went with him along with my belief in things like happiness and hope.Christmas and Santa Claus.
Carolee Dean is a speech-language pathologist as well as a young adult author. She has been a featured speaker at several national and local conferences for educators. In her novel Take Me There, she examines the death penalty from the point of view of a teenage boy who journeys to Texas to find his estranged father. In Forget Me Not she explores cyber-bullying and suicide. For more information about Carolee and her books, visit http://caroleedeanbooks.
blogspot.com/. She has a monthly newsletter focused on helping educators build lifelong readers. Past issues may be found at http://spellbindersbooknews. blogspot.com.
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