Santa and the Silver Stole

By Mary Duggan


My folks did it up right at the holidays with their Christmas Eve gathering of cousins, aunts, uncles, assorted friends, their own eleven children and yes, at the appointed hour, a live appearance from Santa. It was magical. When cousins gather now, a half century later, we all still relive those memories.

But the winter of 1960 found me sick. Really sick. I am only going to give this a few more days, was the prognosis from Mom’s cousin, the doctor.  If she doesn’t make a turn-around I am going to hospitalize her. Pneumonia. I would not be in attendance for Christmas Eve. I was 7 years old and crushed.

xmas 61 card

Dad used his skills from a career in advertising to create our Christmas Cards. 1961, with Annie, Jim and Clare still on the horizon, baby Patrick’s arrival was the big news.

I lay in the big double sleigh bed upstairs, listening to my enormous clan gathering below. Each family bearing casseroles and holiday treats. Uncles slyly stowing bags of gifts in the garage to be “delivered” by Santa later in the night. My mom and my aunts wearing starched holiday aprons. Each aunt bringing her own apron, carefully folded atop her contribution to the holiday  buffet. My uncles tending bar. The adults clinking rocks glasses of highballs and Manhattans; toasting and teasing each other in a way that was different from the rest of the year. Nieces helping with the final table setting; despite days and days of preparation we were never completely ready. Mom’s prized Wedgewood on full display. Kids’ tables made up on card tables everywhere. Everyone shooing our old border collie away from the coffeetable overflowing with appetizers. Grandma Liz presiding over her cookie tins filled with our holiday favorites: gum drops mixed with peanuts or dates stuffed with pecans and rolled in powdered sugar. The highlight of the evening, still some few hours away, would be the marvelous Santa suit she had designed and sewn. The drapes would be closed, the carols to attract Santa would be sung, and then the sound of sleigh bells as Santa Ho Ho Ho’d at the front door, the entire porch filled with pillow cases of gifts, my uncles helping Santa as the elves were busy with last minute gift production. It was enough to make a kid pee her pants.

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Aunt Pat, in her holiday apron, as beautiful as Liz Taylor, said my Mom.

xmas61 a pat butt

Aunt Pat, with a sense of fun that matched her movie star beauty.

Blasé teens in the family would snicker behind their hands as they conjectured who “Santa” would be this year. Many neighbors and distant relatives had been called to service over the years; as the adults were very careful to have no one inadvertently recognizable as Santa. And yet, beneath the wiser than thou demeanors of the teens  – the lingering still of holiday excitement. The center of it all – the tree that my dad would have fussed over days earlier – drilling holes and plugging extra branches until it was just right. His perfectionism making my mom crazy; but the end result charming and homespun with red glass ornaments and garlands of  popcorn and cranberries. It was magical. Even all the hard work of getting ready thrilled me and made it all the more fun. But I was sick this year. Really and painfully sick. Everyone was told to stay away as I remained quarantined and alone in my bedroom.

xmas kidsanta

From my sick bed, I was imagining all the other kids getting their gifts from Santa.

Door bells rang, announcing the arrival of family upon family. There was lots and lots of ringing and arriving with both my mom’s family and my dad’s family in attendance.  All these parents of WWII, determined to create as much goodness and wonder as wallets would allow. The party was swelling and filling the big old house below me. I was left to my fever, my Kleenex, my glass of 7-UP, my thin little pajamas and my crushed 7-year-old heart. Then suddenly and surprisingly the door opened just a crack and it was my darling father’s tall thin frame and gentle smiling face. “Mary,” he said, “you have a Christmas visitor.” An early-stage drama queen, even then, I knew it had to be some sort of holiday mirage or better yet – a holiday miracle. I’m not allowed to have visitors, I reminded my dad. I’m too sick. “Well,” he said, “I think just this once will be alright.”

In the door strode Peter Talso, the chubby young boy from the middle of our long block. The one with the embarrassing crush on me.  “My dad said it would be okay if I don’t stay long.” he reassured me. And this carried big weight as his father was a doctor. “I heard you were sick so I got you a present.” My dad and mom, enormous with her eighth baby due in just a few weeks,  both watched as I unwrapped my gift from Peter. My amazing, unforgettable, never to be outdone gift from my chubby young paramour. It was a silver mink stole and silver sparkly high heels, all perfectly sized to fit a 7-year-old girl. I had never in my life been given such a gift. I have never in my life been treated as regally again by any man declaring his love for me. My mom even let me stand next to the bed, “mink” stole draping my PJ’d shoulders, tottering in my plastic high heels. A princess. A movie star. Maybe even as glamorous as Liz Taylor. And then it was back into bed following an embarrassed thank you to Petey – because I really was sick and even that little bit of movement had left me coughing. I slid my high-heeled feet under the blankets and left my mink stole draped over my shoulders as I fell asleep to the hiss of the vaporizer beside me.

mary xmas sick 60

The old mahogany sleigh bed became a magic carpet as it transported me to a magical place that Christmas.

A few hours later my parents orchestrated their best ever Christmas memory by bringing Santa all the way up to my room, arms brimming with gifts. I was delirious with both bronchial distress and joy. Fortunately my just younger sister, Joanie, was allowed to watch. I would need her later that night to confirm that Santa had indeed come to my bed. The Christmas of the mink stole and the silver pumps and Santa at my bed.

Mary DugganMary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters.

The Duggan Sisters cracked the code and created a natural deodorant that actually works: lifestinks. And that was just the beginning. We hope you will spend a few minutes exploring to experience their spirited approach to wellness through their natural products and healing stories.

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8 Responses to “Santa and the Silver Stole”

  1. Pat Clancy says:

    I love to read your stories, Mary! This one is very touching.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Pat, thank you so much for taking the time to add my stories to the much more accomplished roster of writers you read. Whew, long sentence. Blogging has been a real challenge for me. There is so little out there that I enjoy reading in the blogo-sphere – and yet I blog. I have come to view it as a writer’s work-out; a place to go and explore stories, concepts, themes, etc. A place to see what I might enjoy developing further. This story has real resonance for me. It lives in a time that was precious to me. That delicate time when traditions were still intact; a time before all the divorces that fractured and weakened my extended family. In other words, everyone was still with their first spouse and living in or near Chicago.

      It is not, I think, that my folks did such a great job with Christmas. It is that all of our parents did. These parents raised in and marked by the Great Depression. These survivors, some better than others, of WWII. These owners of brand new homes, educated on the GI Bill, having lots and lots of babies – at least in the case of the Duggans. I remember so vividly my wonderful Uncle Ed Duggan at those holiday gatherings. I did not understand at that young age what it meant that he was picked up and brought to the party from the VA Hospital where he lived for decades following the war – a true war hero left utterly destroyed by the experience. I only knew him to be an alcoholic – whatever in the world that meant to a little girl. I adored him. We all did.

      And finally this little story also marks the time just before the crazy and pivotal 60s, when my radicalized older siblings led our family to places my parents, and I, and possibly our nation were not prepared for.

      I have clarified much about the sequence of my own life in the remembering involved in this story. I have so few photos; and many of them are undated and confusing. Clare helped me lots here to figure out what photo went with what memory. It was Clare who reminded me that Mom was pregnant with Patrick that Christmas. He “appears” for the first time in the Christmas Card of 1961.

      So there you go. A bit of behind the scenes. Beyond the Blog. Beneath the Blog.

      Happy New Year,

  2. Mary Pat says:

    So nice to read your story and to see that beautiful photo of my mother that I had not seen before.
    I have fond memories of much younger years at the Duggan Christmas Eve festivities.
    I rarely get on Facebook but was glad I did today when I saw Clare’s post.
    Happy New Year!
    Mary Pat (McSharry, Jay, Juchcinski, Murphy, Duggan………)

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear Mary Pat,

      Happy, happy birthday!!! It was absolutely marvelous today to find this note from you. What a Christmas miracle that you made the very occasional visit to facebook today, the celebration of your birth, and found a message from your beautiful, fun, creative wonderful mother. I truly believe that is how stories work. Imagine as I was sorting through holiday photos. Why did I pick your Mom, instead of a photo of Grandma Liz, or my Uncle John, or my Aunt Rita? I knew it just had to be the picture of your Mom; even though sneaky-sneaky I am quite sure from the fashion that it is a photo taken much later than 1960. It worked with the story yes; but I think greater forces were at play. I wrote that simple story in just an hour or two. I myself was in tears as I typed the final lines. That is not always the case with stories. But, I felt the presence of the “souls of the faithfully departed” so near at hand. And I always remember my Mom’s intense pride in how beautiful your Mother was. That line about her being as beautiful as the young Liz Taylor was the highest possible compliment at that time. And, of course, it was true – and spoken so often by my Mom. I hope you will share this story with your wonderful brothers – and I would get it to Bill Murphy too, if I knew how. Have the most wonderful birthday ever. How could you not with the heavens literally aligning to send you love? And do keep in touch, dear cousin. I am sure we will see your mother popping in again from time to time as these old stories get told.

      Much love,
      Mary (no Pat)

      PS: keep an eye on facebook today. I have another little treat from your Mom – a photo from 1961 (for sure) that I have been saving for use in a later story.

  3. Kim says:

    Beautifully written memory, Mary. I almost feel I was there.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thanks, Kim, for your kind words. As a writer I had the uncommon experience of writing this and reading this at the same time. I so felt the presence of my deceased family that the story felt channeled to me and through me. A beautiful experience for a writer on an uncommonly beautiful winter day with a storm swirling all around me and the holidays drawing to a close. As I typed the final words I was in tears. I hope my readers experience it as the gift it most certainly and on so many levels. was to me. Peace. Mary

  4. Sheila Saccomanno says:

    OMG Mary…
    Pete Talso had a crush on me too! Do you remember the drugstore used to have a soda fountain? Pete would treat me with root beer floats! I hadn’t thought of that in a long time. When Nancy moved to Longwood Drive, I sometimes saw Pete because his parents were two houses down.
    This was a great memory and he was such a nice guy. I wonder what he’s doing now?

    • Mary Duggan says:

      The Talsos were the most wonderful family. I have so many wonderful memories of Mom and Dad and all of them. They were kind to our family on so many occasions. But Petey was 2-timing me??!?!!? That is just too awful for words. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your wonderful memory of good times at the soda fountain at Johnson’s Drugs. Mary

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