Like most children, I reached an age when I both no longer believed in Santa Claus and simultaneously became brave enough to try to discover a head of time what I was getting for Christmas. Unable to find gifts hidden in the house in the weeks approaching the holiday, I resigned myself to sneaking into the living room the night before to see what packages under the tree had my name on them.
The room I shared with my sister was closest to the living room so I reasoned I would be able to get in and out before anyone noticed.
I waited until everyone was asleep, and then slipped out from under the covers. I tiptoed past my sleeping sister, into the hall and turned left toward the living room.
It was dark. We lived in the country, so no street lamps slipped light through the big picture window. My mother had turned off the tree lights for the night.
It took time for my eyes to focus, but when they had, I froze in terror. There in the living room, stood a gigantic black bear! In the living room! In front of the Christmas tree.
After long seconds, I ran. Back down the hall. Back past my sister. Dived under the covers and pulled them tightly up over my head. I shivered the rest of the night, afraid that the bear would find us defenseless in our bedrooms.
The rule Christmas morning was that no one could go into the living room until everyone was awake and could go into the living room together. My siblings grew increasingly restless, and angry with me, because I would not budge. I steadfastly shook my head and refused to get out of bed. When my mom came in, I wisely pretended to be still asleep. No go. She shook me and declared enough is enough – everyone else is waiting for you – get out of bed.
My fear of my mother being greater than my fear of grizzly bears, I slowly stuck my feet out from under the covers, lowered them to the floor, and crept to the hall where my sister and brothers were already in line. Mom gave the signal and all of them raced to their certain death. I knew it. Moreover, I had no way to warn them without admitting that I had snuck into the living room on Christmas Eve. Reluctantly, resigned to my fate, I followed.
The living room echoed with the mayhem of laughter and tearing paper and squealing children and I saw — where the night before there had stood a huge, ferocious bear, was my father’s old army coat; tossed over a child’s set of chairs and table, ideal for teddy bears and tea, ideal for….me.