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Uncle Dale Can’t Drink

The Truth About Santa

By Kelley SteadPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 4 min read

Uncle Dale wasn’t supposed to drink. Even at seven, I knew that. No one had said it to me directly, but the adults had said it to one another— on the phone, in the car, around the dinner table after the kids had been excused and weren't supposed to be listening.

They'd called him an “alky” or an “addict” and I knew what it meant without knowing. It meant Uncle Dale would sometimes be unable to speak or walk properly. It meant sometimes he got really mad for no reason. It meant his breath smelled like licorice and cigarettes and sometimes he wasn't allowed to drive. One Christmas, he threw a plate and it crashed against the wall. My mom had to clean it up while we waited for someone to come and get Uncle Dale. He didn’t come to the next Christmas, or Thanksgiving either.

When Uncle Dale finally reappeared at a Christmas dinner, the adults told us he’d gone on a long vacation to relax. And we knew he needed to relax, so we understood.

When I saw Uncle Dale this time, I realized he was shorter than I remembered. He had a beard and a bigger belly than he’d had before. His eyes looked tired, but he could walk and talk just fine and his breath didn't smell like licorice, so I figured he’d relaxed enough on vacation.

All the kids hugged and kissed him. They touched his beard and his belly and wondered if this was the Uncle Dale they all remembered. We were quickly distracted by the promise of presents in the morning and the smells of ginger bread baking, and forgot about Uncle Dale. But I still knew he wasn’t supposed to drink.

During dinner, there was an unspoken tension. Our childish bickering over rolls and ham was met with sharp words and little smacks from our parents. No nonsense at dinner, they told us. But last year everyone had been laughing and telling stories around the table, so I didn’t understand.

As the Christmas ham came out, people began to yell at Uncle Dale. I think it was my grandmother who started it. But soon everyone was yelling at him and they even took his cup, which I knew wasn’t a wine cup, and dumped it into the sink.

Uncle Dale yelled at them too. He said life was really hard and he felt like they were treating them like a child and I understood that perfectly. I didn’t understand why Uncle Bob grabbed Uncle Dale by his shirt and forced him outside into the snow. I remember he threw his coat and boots out behind him and slammed the door and locked it.

No one said a word. My mom was crying into her hands and my little sister, Amy, kissed her hair to make her feel better. Amy didn’t know Uncle Dale couldn’t drink, she was far too small.

The adults cleaned up and sent us to bed, which we did happily. Santa wouldn’t come if we weren't asleep. We talked in hushed tones about how we might catch him with a cookies and milk trap, but couldn’t stay awake long enough to do so.

In the middle of the night we heard something shatter, and it woke us up. I knew it was Santa, and so did the others. My cousin put a finger to his lips and told us to follow him. We did, carefully and quietly, holding into the railing of the stairs and giggling in whispers as we peered over into the living room.

There was broken glass on the carpet, which I understood, because we didn’t have a chimney, so how else was Santa supposed to come in if not through the window?

The adults woke up too and we heard them opening bedroom doors and asking questions. Someone screamed and startled Santa, and that’s when he turned around, and we saw him in all his glory.

He was kind of tall, with a big belly, his hat hung slightly off his head, his beard pulled up above his nose. He was wearing his Santa suit, but it was dirty and a bit too small. I could see a little fold of his belly hanging out the bottom and a little peak of brown hair under the hat.

“Ho Ho Ho!” Santa said. But it was muffled by his beard and he swayed a little when he said it, as if he was going to fall over.

“Dale!” Uncle Bob shouted.

“That’s not Uncle Dale!” Amy cried. “It’s Santa!”

“Thas’ right,” Santa mumbled. “I’m Santa Claus... bitches.”

The adults gasped and Uncle Bob lunged forward and grabbed Santa by his neck, knocking his hat off and putting him into a headlock. We watched him punch Santa in the stomach, three times, and I remember holding my breath and silently hoping they hadn’t ruined my chances of getting the My Little Pony playset I’d asked for. One of my cousins started to cry.

When Uncle Bob let go, Santa’s beard had completely fallen off his face, revealing a real one underneath. His hat lay crumpled by his feet. He made a weird face and doubled over, puking onto the floor, dangerously close to the presents around the tree.

And in that moment, the magic had ended— for all of us.

Santa was Uncle Dale. And he’d definitely been drinking.

Bad habitsChildhoodHumanity

About the Creator

Kelley Stead

Grew up on a steady diet of Tom Robbins and Stephen King.

Spinning tales in the quiet moments between motherhood and building a business.

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  • Donna Reneeabout a year ago

    This was so funny and kinda depressing at the same time- my favorite kind of story! I think my favorite line was the combo of “Santa” in a headlock getting punched and the distress over the My Little Pony situation. I hope it worked out haha

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