On Friday I took her to a medical appointment, and on the way home we talked about Christmas cards and how many people still sent them, and whether she had done hers yet (next weekend, Aunt Ginger, next weekend). This topic repeated for several miles, until we got back into downtown. Then Aunt Ginger said, still thinking of Christmas, "well, you know, the boys rung the bells and then it was Christmas."
I asked her which boys, what bells? Church bells? Sleigh bells? What memory was she dredging up?
Aunt Ginger was quiet for a moment or two, then said "Mom and Pop always had a tree, but it would be bare underneath. There were no presents underneath and we would go to bed Christmas Eve. Then in the morning, in the dark, some boys—it must have been my brothers—would ring a bell outside and that would be Santa Claus. Because we didn't have a chimney, he had to deliver to the house. And the presents would be on the front porch and we would bring them in and then have Christmas, because Santa Claus had been there."
She remembered that the presents were simple, and that there weren't a lot, because it was the time of the Great Depression.
I know the house my Aunt Ginger grew up in, because it was the same house I grew up in. It had a long, narrow hallway from the front door to the first floor living room. I wonder whether the brother ringing the bell stood in the hallway, out of sight, and rang some sleigh bells. I wonder whether the presents were in the hallway as well; even in the 1930s, I am not sure my grandparents would have left presents out on the porch in the cold.
But I do not doubt the story, even if the details are fuzzy. The brothers would have been 13 or more years older and probably more than willing to join in the fun. Assuming my mother was in the picture, we are talking late 1930s, when Aunt Ginger would still have been in grade school and Santa still would have been real. I can only imagine the excitement on the girls' faces to know Santa had come and left something for them.
The brothers are long gone. The family home was sold many years ago. More and more memories for my aunt are erased. But somewhere, in the swirl of Aunt Ginger's mind, there is the empty tree, the ringing of bells, and the joy of Christmas.