‘I have bin a vare good girl’

This job has many privileges, and one of them is getting to type letters to Santa for publication. It’s a weighty responsibility, because I don’t want to misrepresent any child’s Christmas wishes.

I’m somewhat limited in my ability to interpret those lists, though. My own children are in their mid-twenties. This year what they really wanted was for us to pay for their car repairs, so my ears haven’t been filled with a litany of toy trademarks. Without a television, I’m not subjected to commercials that might familiarize me with this year’s most popular products. Our house no longer sports a Sears Wish Book with dog-eared pages, crayon circles and emphatic annotation: “KATIE wants this! Do NOT give to Jacob!” (My husband does still leave the Cabela’s catalog lying open in strategic locations.)

When my children were little, supervising homework enabled me to learn (and try to correct) the quirks of their handwriting. They knew that if their Santa letters weren’t legible, their stockings would be filled with socks and underwear. They also knew they’d gain no benefit at all by claiming to have been good all year. Santa knew if they’d been naughty or nice, and lying to Santa was an entry in the wrong column. Instead, they began with abject apologies: “Dear Santa: Sorry I put a plaster cast on Katie. Her arm wasn’t really broken.”

Apparently Montezuma County’s children have reformed considerably since that era; almost all of this year’s letter-writers said they’d been very well behaved, or at least that’s what I think they said.

I had a lot of fun trying to puzzle out what each child was requesting. While I greatly appreciate the parents and teachers who helped out, I treasure the mental picture of a child gripping a fat pencil, carefully forming letters, concentrating hard and fervently hoping that Santa doesn’t remember 2011’s more egregious incidents of misbehavior.

I trekked to the newsroom several times to ask, “Can you read this?” Reporters and editors have a lot of experience reading illegible scrawls, mostly their own, but they weren’t much help. I spent part of an afternoon walking around the office soliciting information from parents of young children. They enlightened me considerably about the names of popular toys, although I’m still clueless as to what those items actually look like and do.

I recognized “iPod” and “iPad” and “laptop,” as well as “horse” (or five of them), “puppy,” “kitten” and “bike,” but beyond that, I was lost. One boy asked for an “iretfsetian2.” If you guessed Play Station 2 (the running favorite in the office pool), you’d be mistaken. Don’t bother to keep guessing; you’ll never figure it out.

Fortunately, Santa knows. (Parents: This is why we asked for your phone numbers.)

I learned that what looks like “DUD” is actually “DVD.” I chuckled at the parents who sought to improve Santa’s record by adding items onto the bottom of their children’s lists. I was amused by a letter from a little girl who wants her own stuff (sharing is a virtue, but everyone ought to have something that’s theirs alone), and another from a child who covered all the basis by asking for peace on earth and a pillow pet (whatever that is). I was touched by those who asked for something intangible, for themselves or something else.

Mostly, though, I laughed because the oft-repeated claim to have been very good this year points to the triumph of hope over experience. The last few days of school before the holiday break and the interminable wait before Christmas actually arrives are a riot of childish exuberance and frantic self-correction. What if Santa saw? What if Dad saw? What if my sister tattles? What if my best efforts haven’t been good enough? I wonder if Mom can tell I’ve unwrapped this three times already.

If only those were the worst things that could go wrong in our world. Here’s wishing for a year of such earnest goodness in 2011.

Suzy Meyer is publisher of the Cortez Journal, Dolores Star and Mancos Times. Contact her at smeyer@cortezjournal.com or (970) 564-6040.

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