(declarations and sandwiches)
The bad news comes: the Greyhound bound for San Diego via Phoenix is turning back from a massive snow storm. Sarah gradually begins to change her mind about the inevitable difficulty, the change in plans that could not be helped if she was to continue.
One spot of relief comes in the form of a call from James, or Jay Jay, as they’d always called him before he himself left Tennessee on a Greyhound years before, under troubling circumstances. He’d found his way to Oklahoma, where he now worked perhaps too many hours as an obstetrician, with his own family now. He jovially dominated the conversation, held from his in-laws house in a snow-bound location parallel to Sarah’s own path.
“The friggin snow and ice was just too much! Looks like Steely will have her last Santa in life away from her house! She's not happy but what do ya do? I just wanted you to know how much you and Mr. McCalley meant to me growing up, what good examples y’all were. I didn’t have such good role models; however strict y’all may have been, you were always there providing for your kids. I think of myself as one of your own, too. I hope you will make it, Mama McCalley; keep the faith!”
Sarah’s mind drifts back to the last year of Santa Claus for her own children, almost twenty five years before. Those were golden years for her and Wayne. She’d always thought of him as loving and true, even when he seemed to only work.
Meaghan sits outside a strip mall somewhere on the way to El Paso, pondering her own disinterest in Christmastime. The years of Santa Claus were long since passed; even then, the feeling was as elusive as a beginner’s balance on skates.
Sarah remembers Meaghan as a surprise, a change-of-life baby arriving just as the first two, Brian and Molly, were old enough to attend school. Sarah had never done much with her Bible college education---a stint as a secretary, but mostly retail; she’d been waiting tables when she met Wayne.
The early years with the children were full of magic little moments--pictures for a magazine, questions like "Mom, what are little ears?", hugs and declarations and sandwiches--- nestled in a growing restlessness with the needs of domestic life. She’d trade nothing for her children, yet she felt as though almost every need for the children, besides money, seemed to call upon her. Perhaps no mother’s moments are meant for her alone---but why mothers, only? Wayne would come home in time to let the kids crawl all over his dozing form on the couch, and they surely thought the moon and stars revolved around him. But all the doctor’s appointments, meals, the long sick nights, the laundry, the housecleaning, the learning, the watchfulness---she’d dozed off herself one afternoon, and awakened to find her daughter’s hair butchered artlessly by Brian, who cheerfully announced: “we’ve been playing ‘barber shop’!”
She’d just finished a course on public speaking and job skills---she was sick the very morning of her graduation from the program, just as she was simply enjoying the moment for a change. That sickness was the beginning of her third pregnancy, and while she didn’t truly resent the new life, those long hours Wayne spent away on the job began to frustrate her more than ever. Sarah was glad to hear about his friendships, didn’t mean to begrudge him nights out with the boys, hours in the bar after work squeezed in between long stretches of overtime.
She had seen a lot of anger growing up, and while her own behavior broke her heart, Sarah would occasionally fly into fits, almost oblivious to the watching eyes of her children. Wayne was a coward, running from the duty of the family in a way he could too readily justify with the constant needs of the children, his own pressures to settle down as Sarah had.
Brian and Molly had found her crying on her bed after one particularly terrible fit of loneliness; their comfort had made her somewhat ashamed. Post partum depression was still not a common topic of conversation as yet; only looking back could she assess some of the situation with a bit of clinical detachment. She made more of an effort to bond with her Meaghan: why should she pay the price for Sarah’s sense of entitlement? Yet, the harder she was on herself, the more her stress came out onto her children and Wayne.
Somehow, Meaghan’s birthday made her ineligible for the preschool where they’d recently moved due to the recession , and at that point Sarah resigned herself, deciding there were no missed opportunities. Besides, she went into her own father’s furniture business, with Wayne eventually to follow, thus easing the loneliness for adult company as Meaghan finally started kindergarten, which had been interrupted by another move. At least now the pieces could fall into place. The last of the Santa Claus years had much brighter lights.
So distant now the memories, fights lost in the recession of years. Seeing him suffer only made him and all he’d ever done angelic to her eyes.
Some people hastily abandoned their bus rides upon hitting the snowstorm almost two hours outside Dallas. They decided to take their chances elseways.