I was six years old and was looking forward to this Christmas because I had personally asked Santa for a special black onyx marble that was all I needed to become the world’s best marble shooter. I knew I would find it under the tree because when my Mom had taken me to Kresge’s, Santa had asked what I wanted and he said he thought he could arrange that. I even think he winked at my Mom when he said it. As far as I was concerned that was a solemn promise. Written in stone. As sure as I knew my name.
At my school, marbles was played against a wall. From six feet away, the player who tossed a shooter marble closest to the wall won a marble from each of the other players. Small marbles worked best because you could nestled them up real close to the wall verses bigger marbles that would bounce and frequently land a inch or so away. Some of the older kids had giant bags of marbles they had won.
On Christmas, when I got my special marble, I would be the King of marbles. My marble bag would dwarf all others. I even envisioned having to use my Radio Flyer wagon to carry my bag of marbles. All the guys in my class would stare enviously at my huge bag. Not to mention the oohs and aahs from some of the girls. Of course the only girl I really cared about was Mary Kay. Even though she was in the second grade and a year older than me, I knew she would have to take notice. Life would be so sweet.
On Christmas Eve day it snowed. I was delighted because that meant Santa would have snow on the roof for his sleigh and reindeer. Late that afternoon, Mom asked me to shovel the sidewalk. I put on my snow suit, boots and mittens and armed with a shovel and good intentions I started from the house and worked toward the road. I started to think about why I should shovel the walk when Santa was coming down through the chimney. My mind drifted and I started to make snow angels in the snow. Then I tried making a snowman but the snow was too dry. Then Mom yelled out the door for me to stop goofing around and finish the walk, she seemed a bit grumpy. Maybe it was because she had so much to do with the cooking and all.
When I scooped up the snow from the walk, I made little piles on the side. I decided to make one big pile. It quickly became a fort and I built it up high so I could hide behind it. I imagined being attacked by the neighbor boys and me soundly defeating them because of my impenetrable fort. It was almost dark and when Mom called me to supper, she saw that the walk was still not shoveled. She was mad and told me Santa might not come because I was so disobedient.
The mood at the supper table was almost as cold as it was outside. Dad asked me why I didn’t do as I was told. I had no good answer. After the meal, Mom told me to go to bed and the dream of being King of marbles started to fade. After a near sleepless night, I heard Mom in the kitchen, so I came down and sure enough, there was no sign that Santa had arrived. Nothing was under the tree. My heart sank. Mom could probably see the anguish in my face. She told me Santa may have decided not to come, however, because of the snow storm, he might be just a little late.
I dressed for church with the idea that he would certainly come while we were gone. My dream of being King was still alive…barely. When we pulled out of the garage and drove toward the church, I saw Santa walking down the sidewalk. He had a bag of toys on his back but he was walking away from the house. He wasn’t coming. I slunk down in the back seat and my eyes teared over. At church I started to feel sick to my stomach. Halfway through Mass, I knew my breakfast was not longed for this world and rushed out toward the rear. I made as far as the vestibule. I just stood there looking at the mess I had made.
My stomach was still in knots when we arrived home. Mom and Dad were looking at me funny when I stepped into the kitchen. They wanted me to go first. Mom said that she thought Santa had arrived. When I looked under the tree, I saw a large box all wrapped up in Christmas paper. It had a tag on it with my name. I thought it couldn’t be a marble in such a large box, but I opened it anyway. Inside the box was another, slightly smaller. I tore into it and inside that box was another. Then another. I started to figure it all out and started to grin. When I got to the last box, it contained my black onyx marble in all its shiny glory.
Ultimately, Mary Kay never noticed, but I didn’t care. I was, in my own mind at least, King.
A shortened-for-space version of this essay was recently published in the Ocean Reef Press . . .