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  • Writer's pictureSam Palmer

Letters From Georgie

December 6, 2010

Dear Grandpa,

I’m using a red marker because all my pencils are still packed up. I found Emily’s marker case in the bottom of her backpack, though. She said I can use them as long as I promise to put the caps on tight when I’m done. She can be so bossy.

Mom and Dad sat me down last night and said you went away. They didn’t tell me exactly where, but they said it was a beautiful and special place. Mom started to cry a little. I think she’s sad you aren’t here right now. Especially since we just moved all this way to be closer to you and Grammy. She’s been crying a lot lately, actually. I think maybe she misses San Diego. Sometimes, so do I. Harrisburg is pretty different from back home.

Guess what I saw last Thursday? A horse and buggy! Right there on the street with a whole row of cars behind it! Dad looked pretty mad that we were going so slow, but I thought it was pretty cool. There was a guy sitting on the front of the buggy in a big black coat and a round hat. Dad said he was Amish, and that they don’t use any electricity or cars or anything! Dad said they live outside of town, and I remembered you saying that you liked fishing outside of town. Maybe when you get back, you can take me fishing and we’ll see more horses and buggies!

Do you remember my best friend Bobby? You met him that one time when you and Grammy came to visit us in San Diego. Anyway, after Bobby met you, he told everyone at school that my grandpa was Santa Claus because of your belly and big white beard. He said you even laughed like Santa. I tried to tell him that your beard is white because you’re old, and your belly is big because Grammy cooks so good, just like you always say. But he wouldn’t listen.

I started thinking about it, though, after Mom and Dad told me you went away. I asked them if you’d be back for Christmas, and Mom started crying again. Dad squeezed her hand and told me you wouldn’t. Then I realized I’d never seen you on Christmas Day in my whole life! We always visited you and Grammy after the holidays. And Grammy once told me you used to ride your motorcycle around and give toys away to little kids in need.

I asked Emily if she thought you were Santa Claus. I try not to bug her too much because she’s always so grumpy. Mom says she’s preteen now, and it’ll only get worse, which always makes Emily grumpier. But she let me sit on her bed. I told her what Bobby said about your beard and belly and even your loud laugh. She thought real hard when I pointed out we never saw you on Christmas Day and said I was right. Before I left her room, she agreed that you might be Santa. She’s pretty smart, even if she is grumpy all the time. Except this time. This time, she was nice. And a little sad, kind of like Mom. I think we all miss you, Grandpa.

Anyway, you always said I was real sharp. You even said I could grow up and be a detective someday because I never miss a thing, remember? I know I’m little, and there’s a lot I don’t understand. Dad says I will when I’m older, and that’s why they don’t always tell me everything. But I think I know your secret now, and I want you to know that I won’t tell anyone like that big mouth Bobby did.

I’m supposed to be writing my letter to Santa, but now that I know that’s you, I just wrote you instead. Do you want me to call you Grandpa Claus now? Or Grandpa Santa? Maybe I’ll just keep calling you Grandpa. Seems easiest. I’ve been real good this year. Dad said I was a big help with the move. I haven’t been at my new school long, but my teachers seem to like me, and I got an A on my spelling test last week! This year, I’d really like a dog. We couldn’t have one in San Diego because Mom said our yard wasn’t big enough, and Dad said he wasn’t sure I was old enough for the responsibility. But now that we have a bigger yard, and I’m a little older, I was thinking maybe I could get one. I already thought of a name and everything. John Wayne. Just like your favorite cowboy from all those old movies.

Okay, my hand is starting to hurt from writing so much. I’ve never written this much in my whole life! I love you, Grandpa. Don’t work too hard up there at the North Pole, and fly safe. And don’t worry, I really won’t tell anyone. Not even Bobby. Merry Christmas, Grandpa! I love you.

— Georgie

December 5, 2011

Dear Grandpa,

I’m typing this out on my new laptop I got from school! They gave one to all the kids in my class. I’m still a slow typer, but it’s better than a red marker. This has been a busy year, and since you never came back home, I’m assuming it’s been a busy one for you too. I wish you had at least written, though. I really really miss you. I know you have a big job, and there’s a lot of kids in the world who need you, so I won’t be selfish. Maybe if you find some time, though, you could call me?

I know I promised you I wouldn’t tell anyone your secret. I tried real hard, I swear. But it just sort of slipped out a few times. The first time was when Meemaw and Pop-Pop came over. It was right after I sent your letter. They flew all the way from San Diego to spend the day with me while Mom, Dad, and Emily went to pick up Grammy. They were all dressed up. Dad was in his fancy suit that he only wears to weddings. He sat me down before he left and said they were going to your Celebration of Life. By the way, isn’t a birthday kind of the same thing? Maybe that’s just how it works when you’re Santa Claus. I wanted to go so bad, and I begged and begged. Dad said I was too little, and someday I would understand. I hate it when he says that.

I was pretty sad I had to stay behind with Meemaw and Pop-Pop. Don’t get me wrong, I like them. Meemaw always does puzzles with me and cooks a lot. I don’t like her cooking as much as Grammy’s, but I don’t tell her that because that would be impolite. Pop-Pop keeps caramels in his pocket and swears a lot, which always makes Mom mad, but I think it’s funny. Pop-Pop took me to the backyard and helped me build a snowman because I was sad. It was pretty fun, but we had to go in after a while because my gloves were all wet and my fingers were so cold they burned. Meemaw said she’d get me better gloves now that we live somewhere that snows.

We sat down for dinner, just the three of us, and Pop-Pop asked me if I understood what was going on. Meemaw whispered, “Thomas, don’t.” Pop-Pop looked at her and said he didn’t think it was right that nobody had explained things to me. They started bickering, and I felt bad sitting there lying to them. I was a little surprised that they knew your secret, but I guess they are family. Anyway, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to tell them I’d already figured it out on my own. They got a real weird look on their faces when I said I already knew you were Santa Claus. I think they were surprised by how smart I am. They must not have noticed it before like you did.

The second time I accidentally let your secret slip was last week. Our class was practicing “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” for the Winter Concert. It’s my favorite song. Anyway, this kid from my class, Shawn, started complaining that he didn’t know why we had to sing it since there was no such thing as Santa. He’s not a very nice boy, and I don’t like him much, to be honest. But Mom always says to be nice to everyone, even the mean kids. They might be acting that way because they’re secretly very sad. If that’s true, then Shawn may be one of the saddest kids I’ve ever met. I think maybe Mom is wrong, though, because he doesn’t seem sad at all. Just mean. Anyway, a girl named Bella started telling him he was wrong and that Santa is real. Shawn called her a baby and got some of the other kids to laugh and make fun of her.

I got so mad. Then I remembered that time you told cousin Joey not to let anger get the best of him after he got in trouble for fighting at school. You told him to count to ten, calm down, and always try talking first. So, I counted to ten and then walked right up to Shawn and all his friends. I told him he’d better knock it off because Santa was definitely real. He crossed his arms over his chest and said his dad told him there was no such thing as Santa. He said it was our parents who pretended to be Santa and give us our presents. Can you believe that, Grandpa?

Then he told me I’m just a baby who believes in fairy tales. Him and all his dumb friends were pointing and laughing at me, and I tried counting to ten again but only made it to five this time. I said I knew for a fact that Santa was real because my grandpa was Santa, and he was at the North Pole at that very moment, probably writing his name on the Naughty List. He stopped laughing and stepped up to me and pushed me hard in my chest with his fat finger. Then he called me a liar. I looked him right in his eyes and said no I wasn’t, and my whole family knew it too. My Grandpa was the real deal Santa Claus. Everyone was looking at us then, not saying a word. I could hear Shawn breathing real heavy. His breath smelled like eggs, which was weird because the cafeteria had served pizza that day. He finally smiled, but it wasn’t a nice smile. Then he said that me and my whole family were crazy, especially my Grandpa.

My hands got real sweaty, and I bit down hard, grinding my teeth together. Then I remembered the other thing you’d told cousin Joey that day. You said even though you should always try talking first, for some people, that just wouldn’t work. Sometimes with a bully, the best way to handle things is with a good pop to the nose. I knew right then that Shawn was a bully, and talking wasn’t going to work. So I balled up my fist, leaned back, and socked him right in his nose.

At first, nothing happened, and he just stared at me, stunned. I heard the other kids gasp. He’s a lot bigger than me, and for a second, I wondered if he’d even felt it. Then his face screwed up, and big tears started pouring down his fat cheeks, and he ran away, crying like a baby. Like an actual baby, Grandpa! I got detention for five days, and Shawn got in trouble for what he said about Santa. I was surprised they didn’t expel him for telling lies like that, but hopefully they sat him down and explained the truth to him and his dad. Anyway, I’m real sorry for telling your secret twice when I promised I wouldn’t. It was an accident both times, and maybe we won’t even count it as a slip with Meemaw and Pop-Pop since they’re family and already knew?

You know what else? I didn’t even get in trouble at home for hitting Shawn. I thought I would because Mom came into the office real mad after they’d called her about me getting in trouble for fighting. But when the principal explained what happened, she went quiet and her face got soft. She even looked kind of sad. I hoped it wasn’t because she was sad that I’d told the family secret, and now even the principal knew about it. On the drive home, she was still quiet, and I thought I saw tears in her eyes. I told her how sorry I was and that I would never tell another person. No matter what. She smiled at me and said she wasn’t angry, she just missed you a lot. I reached over and grabbed her hand and squeezed it just like Dad does because I miss you a lot too, Grandpa. We all do.

I think Mom and Dad are starting to see how grown-up and sharp I am now. Dad came into my room the night I got in trouble for punching Shawn in the nose and gave me a big hug. He told me how proud he was of me for standing up for what I believe in. He said in the future, maybe try finding other ways to talk than just hitting someone in the nose. Then he said we were going to have a very adult conversation after Christmas, and he would explain some things to me. Man to man, he said. I think that now that they know I figured out the family secret all by myself, plus how well I’ve been taking care of John Wayne, they don’t see me as such a little kid anymore.

By the way, thank you for John Wayne! When I saw him with that big red bow around his neck last Christmas, I was so happy. I even cried. The good tears, though, not the bad ones. His yellow fur is so soft and his tail never stops wagging. I clean up the yard twice a week and take him on walks all the time. I even taught him a few tricks! Mom let him sleep in my room after he was house trained. I love him so much, Grandpa. Thank you. He was the best Christmas present ever.

I know I didn’t keep my word about not telling anyone your secret, and I punched Shawn in the nose, but I hope that didn’t put me on the Naughty List this year. My grades are all real high, and I earned five badges this year with the Boy Scouts. Dad said that’s more than he earned his first year when he was a kid! Also, I’ve been extra nice to Emily, even though she’s a full-blown teen now and more grumpy than ever. I even said her makeup looked nice when I kind of thought she looked like a clown.

So, if I’m still on the Nice List this year, I would really like a cell phone. Nearly all the kids in second grade have one, and since I’m so responsible, I think it’s time that I do too. Then you could call or text me anytime! Merry Christmas, Grandpa. I love you. I hope I see you after the holidays when you aren’t so busy.


P.S. The Winter Concert is next Friday. Do you think you could make it? Grammy made me a red sweater to wear. It’s kind of itchy, but Mom says I have to wear it because it’ll make Grammy happy. Also, the teacher got us all Santa hats to wear during the performance! If you come, you should wear yours too! You’ll blend in, so nobody will think anything about it. Plus, then we’ll be matching.

December 16, 2011

Dear Grandpa,

Mom and Dad say there is no way I’m getting a cell phone this year, and I should ask for something else. I don’t know if you have to listen to them or not, but I know I do, so we’d better scratch the cell phone thing. I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I’d like instead. Grandpa, I know it’s a big ask, but the thing I want more than anything else in the whole world is to see you. This is the longest I’ve gone in my whole life without at least hearing from you. I know you’re busy, so I had an idea. I was thinking maybe I could help you deliver presents!

Not even sure if stuff like that is allowed, but I figured, since you’re the boss up there, maybe you could look into it? I know you’re super busy. You must be since you’ve been gone this long. You weren’t even able to sneak away to the Winter Concert. But maybe if I could come to you, I could help! I’m taller and stronger than the last time you saw me. I could help load the sleigh or something!

I made sure Dad recorded the Winter Concert so you could see it when you get back, by the way. Grammy said I was very handsome in my sweater and that I looked a lot like you. I think it was probably because of the Santa hat I was wearing. Even Emily seemed to have fun, which doesn’t happen very often anymore. She said I did a great job. Also, you probably already know this because Grammy told me she talks to you every night, but Mom and Dad just told us she’s selling the big house and moving in with us after Christmas! I can’t wait until we all live together, though I don’t know where we’re going to put all your tools and woodworking stuff. I’ll tell Dad we should start clearing out some space in the garage.

Love you, Grandpa! Hope I get to see you soon.

— Georgie

December 22, 2012

Dear Grandpa,

I know there isn’t much point in writing this letter to you since I can’t send it to Heaven. I just miss you, I guess. Grammy says you’re always with us in our hearts, even though you can’t be here in person. If you’re in my heart, I hope that means you can see this letter.

Mom and Dad sat me down after the New Year and told me you weren’t coming back because you had passed away. Mom was crying real hard and kept saying she was so sorry for not telling me sooner. She thought she was protecting me, she said. All I could think about the whole time we talked was that they must be wrong. You hadn’t passed away. You were working real hard up at the North Pole because you were Santa Claus. They had to be wrong.

I guess we both know by now that they weren’t, though. Mom and Dad let me stay home from school for a few days, which was nice because I’d told all the kids in my class there was a chance you were going to take me to the North Pole to help you deliver presents for Christmas. I didn’t know how I was going to tell them the truth. I felt so stupid. How could I have thought you were Santa? Not a very good detective, I guess. But also, I felt mad. Mad at Mom and Dad and Emily and Grammy for keeping this big secret from me. And, Grandpa, I hate to admit it, but I was even a little mad at you for leaving me.

Mom must’ve called the school and told them what happened because when I finally went back, I got called to the counselor’s office. Mr. Digby is his name, and I hadn’t met him before, but he seemed to know me. He let me make a cup of hot chocolate from the Keurig in his office. He even put fluffy little marshmallows on top of it like Grammy does. I was still feeling pretty angry, but I was happy to be sitting with him and my cup of hot chocolate instead of in class. Mr. Digby told me he’d heard about you passing and that he was very sorry for my loss. He was the first one to ever say that to me, and it made me feel weird. I almost cried, but I bit my teeth down hard and stared at the marshmallows in my cup.

He told me if I ever wanted to talk about it, his door is always open. I could tell he wanted me to talk right then but wasn’t saying so. Why do adults do that, Grandpa? Why don’t they just say what they mean? I don’t know why, but I got so mad, and big hot tears started coming down my cheeks no matter how hard I bit down. I looked up at him and just started talking. It all came out of me. My parents lying to me, Pop-Pop trying to talk to me, convincing myself you were Santa, punching Shawn in the nose, writing you letters. All of it. By the end, I was crying so hard I couldn’t even talk anymore. I just sat there crying and crying.

Mr. Digby took the cup of hot chocolate out of my hands and set it on the table beside the couch. Then he sat down and put his arms around me and let me cry on his shoulder. My tears and snot got all over his sweater, but he didn’t seem to mind. He hugged me until I stopped crying and then he handed me a Kleenex and sat back in the chair across from me. I’d never cried that hard ever, Grandpa. Not ever. I was real tired all of a sudden, and my head felt heavy. Mr. Digby waited for me to catch my breath before he finally spoke to me. He said, “George, I’m so sorry you’re going through all of that right now. Death is hard no matter how old you are, especially when it’s someone you love as much as you love your Grandpa. He sounds like he was a very special man.”

I nodded and tried not to start crying again. Then he asked what I thought you would say to me if you were there. I told him I didn’t know. He said I should think about that, and when I did know, he’d really like for me to come back and tell him because he had a feeling my grandpa would know just the thing to say. Then he patted my shoulder and said he was going to call Mom and tell her to come get me and take just one more day before coming back to school.

I was quiet in the car on the way home, and Mom didn’t ask too many questions. I was glad about that. I went straight to my room and fell asleep thinking about what you might say to me. When I woke up, Emily was knocking at my door. She’d brought me a sandwich and some chips since I’d slept through dinner. She’d been extra nice to me ever since Mom and Dad told me about you passing away.

She set down the plate of food on my dresser and went to leave. Before the door closed, I blurted out, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She turned and came back into the room, looking sad. She said because Mom and Dad had asked her not to. Didn’t seem like a good reason to me. I’d seen her do lots of stuff they’d told her not to. She rolled her eyes at me and said I’d understand when I was older. “I wish people would stop saying that!” I yelled. Yelling is impolite, but I didn’t care. I was sick of people not saying what they mean just because they thought I was too little to understand.

I thought she’d storm out of the room and slam the door, but she didn’t. She apologized and sat down next to me. Then she talked to me, Grandpa. Like how you used to talk to me. Not like a little kid who can’t understand. She looked in my eyes and spoke without that weird voice grown-ups do when they think they’re explaining something hard to you. She said she felt awful for not telling me, but she was just a kid too and didn’t know what the right thing to do was. Then she started crying a little, and the black makeup around her eyes started to run. She said, “When I didn’t know what to do, I’d call Gramps. He always knew.”.

I never knew she was close to you like I was. And then I got real sad because I realized that if she loved you like I do, it must have been so hard to pretend in front of me all that time just to keep the secret. It must have hurt when I’d talk to her about you being Santa Claus. I wasn’t angry with her anymore. We’d both lost our best friend. I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around her and squeezed her so tight. After a few minutes, with my arms still around her, I asked her what she thought you would say to us if you were there. She was quiet for a long time. Then she looked at me. “He’d tell us we’re both tough and sharp, and that we’re gonna be just fine. That we need to always look out for each other and that he loves us.”

I was still really sad after that, but I didn’t feel mad all the time. Emily made me realize I wasn’t the only one who’d lost you. Mom lost her dad, Grammy lost her husband, and even Dad lost his fishing buddy. You meant so much to so many people, Grandpa. I had never seen that. I don’t know why, maybe because I was just a little kid, but I guess I always thought you were all mine. But you were all of ours, and we were all a little lost without you.

After the big house sold in spring, Grammy moved in with us. The house smells yummy all the time now because she’s always cooking. She even started teaching Emily how to cook! Emily seems way less grumpy lately. She told us all at dinner the other night that she wants to go to culinary school. Grammy said that’s a wonderful idea because Emily is a natural.

Shortly after Grammy moved in, Mom took me fishing at the creek. It was just the two of us, and I couldn’t remember the last time it had been that way. She was in a pair of ripped jeans, dirty old boots, and one of Dad’s old t-shirts. Her hair was down and all curly instead of pulled tight in a knot. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen her not in pajamas or dressed up in her work clothes. Her smile seemed bigger, but her eyes were still kind of sad. She drove way out of town until we were on a long dirt road. We drove past a blueberry farm and then she pulled the truck over and parked in the weeds. She grabbed the poles out of the back and told me to grab the little lunch box she’d packed for us with sandwiches and a couple of pops. I’d only ever heard you call soda “pop” before, and it made me miss you.

We spent all day at the creek with our lines in the water without a single bite from the fish, but I didn’t mind. It was nice being with her like that. Most of the time, we didn’t talk, but every once in a while she’d point out a bird and tell me what it was called. Or tell me a story about you and her fishing at this same creek when she was a girl. She said back then she called it a “crick,” and we both laughed at how funny that sounded.

I could tell there was something else she wanted to say. From the corner of my eye, I’d see her open her mouth like she was about to say something, but then she’d change her mind and snap it back shut. I don’t know why so many grown-ups don’t just say what’s on their mind, Grandpa. You weren’t like that, and I hope I’m not either when I grow up. Anyway, I finally turned to her and told her to just say what she wanted to say. She looked surprised but then she smiled and shook her head. “Grandpa always said you never missed a thing.”

She had tears in her eyes as she started talking. She told me how sorry she was for everything and how much she regretted the choices she made. You were her best friend, and she’d hoped moving us across the country would have given us more time with you. “I wasn’t ready to lose him, Georgie. None of us were.” She wiped the tears from her face, and I stayed quiet, watching my bobber in the creek. After a while of neither of us talking, I asked her what she thought you would say if you were there with us. She sighed, and I saw her lip tremble. Then she turned to me smiling and said, “He would tell me he loves me. He would tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m a hell of a mom. And then he’d tell me that if I need proof of that, to look at the two amazing kids I’d raised. Then he’d make fun of me for being here for this long without catching a single damn fish.” I know I’m not supposed to say swear words, but I was just telling you what Mom said, so I think it’s okay.

We both laughed and cried at the same time. I think it was a mix of the good kind and the sad kind. I think about that day a lot.

Now it’s just three days to Christmas, and the crick is frozen over. Mom and Dad said it was alright if I skipped my Santa letter this year, which I’m glad for. I’m sure he understood, but I’m a little embarrassed that I wrote him two years in a row calling him Grandpa. This year my class performed “Jingle Bells” for the Winter Concert, and I got to be one of the kids who rang the bells. Grammy made me a new sweater this year since I outgrew the other one. She made this one green and less itchy.

Tonight, we were all going to go to the Christmas parade in town. Grammy decided to stay behind to go visit you instead. I hadn’t been to the cemetery yet and thought maybe it was about time. I asked if I could go too, and Mom and Dad agreed and kissed us goodbye as they left with Emily for the parade.

The cemetery had Christmas lights wrapped around all the trees, and there were wreaths with big red bows on every gravestone. It felt happier than I thought it would. We walked down the aisles, leaving big footprints in the snow behind us, until Grammy stopped in front of a tall gravestone and smiled. I stood beside her and looked at your name etched into the grey stone. This was written underneath it: As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart, Proverbs 27:19.

She stepped forward and said, “Hello, Howard. Look who came to see you.” I stood there feeling like I wanted to cry and run and talk to you, all at the same time. Grammy turned around and looked at me, sticking out her hand for me to grab. She pulled me to her side and gave me a warm squeeze. She talked to you. She told you about the Winter Concert, the cookies her and Emily had been baking as gifts to the neighbors, and that she was knitting John Wayne a green Christmas sweater to match mine. She was laughing and smiling as if you were really there. I stood there and listened as big fluffy snow began to fall down on us.

“Oh, Howard,” Grammy whispered as she closed her eyes, lifted her face to the sky, and let out a loud laugh. I didn’t get it. She looked down at me, and her lashes had clumps of snow on them. She said the first time you two ever kissed was during Christmas time when the snow was falling on you both. She told me you made it snow just then while we were there with you, to tell us you were with us. I got goosebumps all over, and I wondered if it was from the cold or not. Magic and fairy tales was something I tried not to believe in too much anymore, but standing there holding her hand in the falling snow, it sure felt magical.

I looked up at her as we walked back to the car and asked her what she thought you would say if you were there with us. “Well, he was with us, Georgie. He always is. Can’t you feel him?” I shook my head no.

“That’s alright,” she told me. “You will. Sometimes you gotta look for it. Like tonight, with the snow. Grandpa is always trying to show us he’s here and that he loves us.”

This last year has been so hard, and I wasn’t sure it would ever get better without you. I’m still not sure it’ll ever get better, but I think we’re going to be okay now. I’ll probably always be sad when I see Santa stuff. Or when I explain why I named my dog John Wayne. Or when Bobby laughs because I say “pop” instead of soda, or “crick” instead of creek. I will always want to call you when I need help. I’m sad because I love you, and you aren’t here anymore. This was my first Christmas where I really felt that you were gone. But it’s also when I realized you aren’t totally gone. You’re in our hearts, reminding us we’re tough and sharp and to not be so hard on ourselves. You’re showing us you love us all the time.

You may not be Santa Claus, but you will always be my hero and my best friend. I don’t know how angels and Santa work, but in case you two can talk, would you tell him I’m sorry for not sending a letter this year? Let him know I’m okay and that I don’t need anything. Merry Christmas, Grandpa. I love you. I’ll be looking for you.

— George

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