Naughty or Nice?

This week is that magical time of the year where almost everyone is asked the same question, “Do you believe?”  Of course, I’m talking about your belief in the jolly, old, fat guy; the guy who can visit more rooftops in 24 hours than Ft. Hays makes 3-point shots.   Most of the coaching staff at Northwest has babies, toddlers, or inspiring- to -be teenagers.  In a climate like that, you have to believe.  Santa’s appearance at our athletic director, Wren Baker’s, and our soccer coach, Tracy Housa’s houses, will really be special this year.  Both families have baby girls celebrating their first Christmas.

Just watch the movie channels this month.  An Elf helps Santa fly out of Central Park.  Tim Allen finds Christmas different in three different versions of his Santa story.  You’ll see the Polar Express and other Christmas stories put on the screen to tug at your entertainment minutes (and heart).  Sam and I will sit down and watch parts of five or six showings of the Christmas Story marathon.  You remember, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”  Somewhere on Christmas Eve, Jimmy Stuart will jump off a bridge into an icy river, only to be saved by an angel.  It definitely is a Wonderful Life.

Christmas for me changed at about age 8.  For the first seven Christmas’s of my life found Santa locating the Steinmeyer house just as we were stumbling on our lines about the birth of the baby in a manager at the Zion Lutheran Church in Clatonia, Nebraska.  I don’t know how Santa always knew when we were in church, so he could lay a pile of presents under the Christmas tree we had cut from my grandpa’s farm.

The other thing that was strange was dad was never in church to hear me whine about going in front of the congregation.  Can you imagine me stage struck?  I apparently never said the lines loud enough, slow enough, or without grammatical error, or so my grouchy Sunday School teacher would inform me.  I swear I was shouting to the rafters.  I guess it took me a while to get my gym voice.

On my eighth Christmas, my family had dramatically changed.  My mother had died and dad had re-married.  My step-mother, Mae, seemed to have a direct line to Santa, because he changed his schedule when he arrived at our house.

We still went to church on Christmas Eve, but now it was the Methodist Church, much to my grandparent’s dismay.  Dad actually saw my performances.  We would show up at my other set of grandparents and open one or two presents, but nothing like the big event that was coming the next morning.

We had to hustle to bed and somehow find sleep so Santa could appear on his new time schedule.  It’s funny, the kids at the Lutheran Church still had Santa visit during their encore performances.  However, now when I stirred awake on Christmas Day, Santa wouldn’t let us down.  However, our big presents were never wrapped.  I guess Santa just ran out of time.

There’s something that happened during December of my eighth Christmas to enhance my belief in Santa.  My dad had started dating our soon to be step mother.  My brother and I would go to her house in Lincoln.  A baby sitter would watch us and Mae’s son, Greg, who was younger than both os us and our step brother in waiting, while Mae and Dad cut the rug at one of the big band dance halls.

During one of those night outs, the baby sitter had us all watch the original Miracle on 34th Street.  I was hooked on the movie and sold a bill of goods on Santa’s existence.   It didn’t take any fancy special affects, or Santa actually flying off from the North Pole for me to believe in Santa.   Do you remember how the original movie ends?  The little girl played by Natalie Woods, gets her house, her back yard, and her own room.  Could Chris Cringle (Santa) really have made that happen?  After all, he did live in a senior citizen’s home.  However, when they found his cane leaning against the living room wall, for the first time in my young life, I welled up in tears over a movie.

I have to admit now that I’m too old for ridicule; tears have only come during movies twice since then.  Who couldn’t help but cry when Brian Piccalo died of cancer in Brian’s Song?  Also, when he built it and he did come, I hid the tear that was rolling down my cheek after Field of Dreams.  Just think about all those $20 bills coming in to save the farm and the baseball field.

My step mother was very unusual in her ritual about Christmas.  When we boys complained about the lack of wrapping paper, Santa decided to decorate our gifts with newspapers.   I guess a recession must have hit the Arctic Circle.   She refused to change any routine about Santa, even after my brother was on leave from the Navy and I was home from college in Kearney, Nebraska.  Even at that advanced age, Santa would still appear sometime during Christmas Eve night or the early morning of Christmas Day.  The only different is all three of the brothers wouldn’t jump out of bed until mid-morning.  We needed our sleep.

My routine with Sam is set.  It might take a while to get him to go asleep, but Santa can outlast him.  We leave cookies, but Sam found out a little known fact about Santa; he prefers egg nogg to milk, especially the skim milk we keep in the refrigerator.   Santa always wraps the presents in holiday designed paper.  However, Sam did note he used the same paper two years in a row.  I think that means recession has found its way up north again.

After the presents have been opened, Sam and I settle into another episode of the Christmas

Story.  My favorite part is when the boy visits Santa on top of his Christmas castle.  As he sits on Santa’s lap, the gruff guy with the fake beards says, “Ho, ho, ho, what would you like for Christmas little boy?”  Of course the kids goes blank until he’s halfway down the slide.  Then Santa relays those immortal words, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

I had planned on writing about other great, mythical characters.  You know who I mean; the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the evil Boogie Man.  However, I think I’ve carried on long enough.  I do want to let you know the Boogie Man does exist, I’m sure.

My grandmother always threatened me when I was bad.  It was never the “Naughty or Nice” list from Santa.  It always was, “The Boogie Man will get you.”  Finally, at about age 8, I became skeptical and waited for the next threat.  I’ll never forget the moment.  I was with my grandparents on Main Street of Clatonia.  I don’t know exactly what I had done to be bad, but I’m sure it had to do with picking on my brother, Roger.  I had to do that when I could because he grew up to be 6’2”.  I was smart enough not to mess with that.

Grandmas shouted out the familiar threat and my response was, “I don’t think there is a Boggie Man.  I’ve never seen him.”  My very resourceful grandmother looked around and spotted a telephone repair man, dressed in a drab, brown uniform.  She pointed a crooked figure at him and said, “That’s the Boogie Man right there.        “

I jumped behind the seat of their car and didn’t come out for a good 30 minutes.  To this day, I still don’t trust anyone in a brown uniform.  I’m sorry about that UPS.  I’m here to tell you, the Boogie Man does exist.  It just happens to be in the form of all the one and two loss women’s basketball teams in the MIAA.  Merry Christmas!!!

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Gene Steinmeyer

About Gene Steinmeyer

Gene Steinmeyer coached the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team for 13 seasons before retiring after 26 years as a collegiate head coach after the 2011-12 season. He retired as the second winningest women’s basketball coach at Northwest as his 2010-11 team won both the MIAA Regular Season and Tournament Championship advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals one game shy of the national championship game.