Gift of Laughter
By John Norberg, Humorist s

A Christmas column from 1995

This year my old, toy Santa stopped working.

I suppose all things stop in time. Still, I thought this toy might last forever – carefully packed away each January and stored until the next December.

In its prime, and even well after it, this Santa would sit on a stand. When the fresh batteries were added and the switch was pushed his eyes would light up, his head would move from side to side. One of his arms would swing and ring a bell and his other arm would wave a sack of gifts all the while making a loud noise of moving gears. This Santa was long before the digital age.

In this day and age, this Santa was not high tech.

It probably wasn't even high tech 30 years ago when Aunt Evie gave it to me. She would have been 60 years old then, I was 18.

A toy Santa isn't exactly the kind of gift 18-year-old boys are hoping for on Christmas morning. But Aunt Evie knew what she was doing.

I can't think of anything else I got for Christmas that year. No other present from that Christmas has lasted 30 years. But I still have that old Santa.

Aunt Evie gave me that Santa during what we called her second childhood. But really what she was celebrating was our second childhood – even if we didn't want to go along with it.

One of the most enjoyable parts of Christmas is shopping for kids' toys. And 30 year ago my sister, brother and I had all grown past wanting toys.

But that didn't bother Aunt Evie. She went right ahead and bought us toys. She wrapped them. Gave them to us and when we opened them Christmas morning they brought dismay and lots of laughs and smiles from everyone.

Those toys made everyone feel happy. And Aunt Evie always laughed the hardest. But then, Aunt, Evie was the easiest laughter I have ever known.

Everyone loved to tell her a joke because she always laughed long and hard even when she didn't understand it.

She laughed at everything. She laughed at situations. She laughed at life.

Sometimes she laughed when I didn't really understand why she was laughing. But that was okay, but she made us laugh too.

Maybe you have someone like Aunt Evie in your family. I hope you do. It's the Aunt Evies in our lives who remind us we're only a smile away from feeling good.

Aunt Evie died several years ago. She lived into her mid-80s. She never lost her laughter.

I was with her in the hospital. She was unconscious. I held her hand for several hours. There was no talk between us. When I finally had to leave I said: "I love you." Her eyes were closed. Her breathing was light. She said: "I love you, too."

The next morning I was at her side when her breathing finally stopped.

Not long before she died she gave us ornaments to hang on our Christmas tree. They're made of little glass beads that form angels and wreaths and Christmas trees. She made them herself.

I love to hang them on the tree because they make me remember Aunt Evie. I can still hear her laughter. I can hear it as I stand beside the Christmas tree looking at the glass-bead angels she made. I could hear it when I turned on the Santa every year – even though the only part still working was the eyes that lit up and sparkled. I guess that's appropriate. Aunt Evie's eyes lit up and sparkled too.

Aunt Evie's laughter rings in my memory like silver bells taking me back to Christmases long ago and people I dearly miss.

I wonder if Aunt Evie knew? I wonder if she understood that the real gift she gave us wasn't glass-bead ornaments. It wasn't a toy Santa.

The real gift she gave us was her joy-for-life laughter that returns to our hearts at Christmas. The memory of her laughter renews my spirit each time I see the old toy Santa, whether it works or not.

The old toy Santa doesn't work anymore. Or does it? After all these years, Aunt Evie, it still makes me laugh and smile

Copyright@John Norberg