All I want for Christmas is … haircut?

It was a few days after Thanksgiving, 1939. Mom, Dad, my five-years-older sister and I were at Higbee’s department store in Cleveland. Santa Claus was there, and it was my first clear recollection of him. There was a short line of kids, and I was soon on Santa’s lap.

He seemed friendly enough, although his breath was terrible and his beard stayed still when his mouth moved. I was 4. I felt a bit intimidated.

I had yet to get my first haircut, and had a head of tightly curled hair. To him, I probably looked like Little Orphan Annie with light brown hair. “And what do you want for Christmas, little girl?”

I punched him in the chest.

“I’m no girl, I’m a boy!” I stated emphatically.

He regrouped.

“What do you want for Christmas, little boy?” I refused to tell him because of that major indiscretion about my gender. Soon, that little ordeal was over, and I rejoined Mom, Dad and my sister.

“What did you tell Santa you wanted for Christmas?” Mom and Dad asked. I lied and recited my sing-song list. They knew that I hadn’t told him. My sister had just introduced me to the concept of telling lies, and I was practicing it on Mom and Dad.

Oh sure, I had certainly lied before I knew that was what it was called. I had used that unnamed technique many times — especially to avoid punishment.

Back in Warren a few days later, Mom took me to the log cabin on Mahoning Avenue across from the courthouse. She wanted to give me another chance with my wish list.

We went in. It was dark and smoky. There was Santa again! This time he was sitting in front of the fire in the fireplace. He had shrunk a bit since the last time I had seen him, and he was wearing a false face! The holes in it didn’t line up with his eyes, and the mouth hole was all wet. This wasn’t the same Santa!

I sat on his lap. I must have made a mistake — his breath smelled just exactly as bad as before, so it had to be the same guy.

“What do you want for Christmas, little girl?” he asked.

I bapped him one in the chest.

“Don’t you remember? I’m no girl, I’m a boy!”

Again, he regrouped.

“What do you want for Christmas, little boy?”

I reluctantly decided to tell him what I wanted in spite of this second indiscretion. I was just a bit disgusted.

A bit closer to Christmas, I was walking with Mom in downtown Warren on Market near Kresge’s. I was hiding my face in the folds of her skirt to avoid any further mistaking me for a little girl by passersby. I glanced out a bit from behind my veil of fabric. Oh my, here he comes! It was Santa again. Only this time he had gotten pretty skinny.

“Hello, little girl,” he said cheerfully. “What do you want for Christmas?”

I clenched my fist and cocked it behind my ear, ready to bop him one right in the knee. “I already told you once!” I was practically shouting. “And I’m no girl, I’m a boy!” He left without pursuing his question.

On Christmas Day, a few of the things I had asked for were delivered by Santa — in spite of the fact that we didn’t have a fireplace. A Lionel train ran around in a circle on a track on the living room floor.

Actually, I was relieved that I didn’t get what I had really dreaded I would get. Grandma had told me that Santa would bring me a lump of coal instead of any presents if I didn’t behave. She knew I was pretty good at lying.

Sometime after Christmas I did get my fondest wish. Mom, after much tearful discussion with Dad, took me downtown to the barber shop in the basement of the Warner Hotel. There is where I met my personal hero, Rocky Santo the barber! He would remain my barber and favorite adult friend for many years to come.