Conversations With a Three Year Old: A Trip to the Santa Claus ShopSerge Bielanko
Salvation Army thrift store in town. Saturday afternoon.
Me: 40, almost 41-year-old dad, Saturday hair (i.e. a mess) holding hands with my almost 4-year-old daughter.
Violet: dressed in her warm winter coat, eyes sparkling with anticipation.
(The bells on the front door ring out as we enter the ‘Santa Claus Shop’, which is where the camera zooms in on a father and his young daughter trudging in on this cold late November Saturday. It’s a thrift store just like any of them, really, except come Thanksgiving, this one has a special area in the back for Christmas stuff. It’s an ever-changing treasure trove of plastic Santas from the 7o’s and pine cone wreaths from the 80’s and poinsettia tablecloths that someone bought last year and then decided to get rid of for whatever reason.)
Violet: Where’s the Christmas magic stuff, Daddy? Is that it? (pointing at a floppy cardboard box box of used shoes)
Me: Nah kiddo, we have to go all the way to the back of the store. They keep it in a secret room where only people who like Santa Claus a lot can get in.
Violet: Okay, Daddy. I loooooove Santa. And you love him too, huh?
Me: Oh yeah, baby. That’s why we’re here! We love that dude. Plus, remember that stupid old fire that we had at our house last year?
Violet: (looks up at me and nods that she remembers)
Me: Well, remember how the firemen came and did such an awesome job and saved so much of our stuff, but couldn’t save it all?
Violet: (same nod/squeezing my hand/looking straight ahead now in search of Secret Christmas Room/quite possibly not listening to me at all)
Me: That stupid fire!! It ate a lot of our Christmas decorations. So many of the cool things we used to put up together to make the house look so awesome at Christmas, well, they’re all gone now. Sooooo…we have to get some NEW Christmas decorations now, okay? We need things to put up and make our house look awesome for when Santa comes, you know what I mean?!
Violet: (beaming) OKAY DADDY!
(I squeeze her hand as we walk past the first fake trees covered with old yarn snowflakes and ornaments that say stuff like ‘K-Mart Christmas Memories 1986’. Tables of plastic holly and ceramic snowmen come into sight and Violet freezes in her tracks trying to take it all in.)
Me: Hey, if you see something that you think would look perfect in our place, let me know. I need you to help me spot stuff.
(She immediately picks up a cheap old snow globe that says Seasons Greetings underneath a Santa up to his chin in water. Evaporation, maybe? She shakes it and a blizzard rages up to the fat man’s nose, but no higher.)
Violet: Look at this Daddy! It’s Santa and it’s snowing and Santa is standing in the snow!
Me: Put it in the basket if you like it.
Violet: I don’t wanna put it in the basket, I wanna keep it.
Me: Fair enough. Hold on to it, then.
(I rake my eyes across tabletops looking for cool things to replace the things we’ve lost. My highly trained farmer’s market eyeballs quickly descend onto something. It’s something weird, something unusual. It’s something very very alone in this world. It’s a regular old crab shell, the kind you need to eat like 50 of to not be hungry anymore, and it’s spray painted red and flipped over. Someone has glued a couple cotton balls where his heart and guts used to be and there’s a tiny plastic Santa glued on top of those. I fall in love with it. I need to share my find.)
Me: Ummmm, Violet…..come look at this.
(She ignores me, shakes the globe. I put one of the most amazing decorations I will probably ever discover in my basket even though it feels as brittle as a potato chip. In my heart, I know it won’t ever last long; in all honesty: it lasts just until I’m checking out when I find it broken in several bits at the bottom of the basket and I ask the young punk rock girl at the register to give it to me for fifty cents instead of a buck. She looks me square in the eye, pauses in thought, and then announces, “I can do that.” I now own a broken Christmas-y crab shell. )
Me: Hey Violet do you want to help me pick out some Santas?
Violet: This onethisonethisonethisonedaddyplease! (She runs at me with a blow mold foot high job that lights up. I look at the tag. $4.99. Steep for the Salvation Army, but whatever. We need this stuff.)
Me: Good find! Put it in the basket, please.
Me: Yeah kid?
Violet: Can I have this too? (She holds up another snow globe. It’s a beat up one with scratches all over the plastic, but I can still make out some of the 101 Dalmatians standing there in the wailing wall of blinding snow. It occurs to me that this thing has seen better days and that chances are: no one is ever going to buy it even for the buck they are asking for it.)
Me: Oh man. man oh maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan! Is that the Dalmatians??!!!
Violet: (excited that I know them, giggling) Yeah!
Me: Oh my goodness! Yes yes yes, we’re gonna have to have that one, baby. Put it in the basket.
(She does. It thuds down next to my crab chip Christmas UFO and an old plastic Santa whose head is held to his neck by one lingering tendon of ancient glue and whose beard appears to have been the location of a small animals messy death.)
Me: I don’t know how people get rid of some of this stuff, you know kid? It’s all just so awesome, huh?
Violet: (stares hard into her Santa globe and shakes it until there is a full-on whiteout.) I love Santa.
Me: Damn right you do, kid. Me too. Let’s go pay for this stuff before someone realizes we’re taking all this magic home for so cheap.
(Camera zooms back and above the two characters as they walk past the rack of free day-old bread and danishes and past the dusty shelves of books, skimming along the ceiling above the heads of shoppers, losing sight of the dad and his daughter behind a rack of sweaters just before it fades to black to the sound of distant sleigh bells.)