I first met Mrs. Claus in elementary school, probably around the same time you did. She was standing in the crisp pages of a storybook, white-gray hair pulled back into a responsible bun, small spectacles perfectly positioned for examination of a cookie recipe or the occasional reproachful look to Mr. Claus, ”Don’t be such a bear to Rudolph, Santa, he’s a sensitive creature.”
(Then there’s Santa, muttering under his breath because the fame has gone to Rudolph’s head — what a reindiva.)
Before I read that storybook, I never wondered if there was a missus. My youthful innocence let me believe Santa alone could keep a global gift-giving operation like the North Pole running smoothly. Now of course I would never make such a mistake: You show me a well-oiled machine, and I assume a woman is on the scene.
Even though the nitty-gritty of how the North Pole functions is cloaked in secrecy, it’s safe to assume that if the dwelling is anything like most homes in America, at some point during the season they reach meltdown status. Elf rebellions. Ribbon shortages. And Mrs. Claus must have the night before the night before Christmas routine down pat by now. How to coax Santa through the usual butterflies about his least favorite part of the job — talking to people who wander in during the middle of his gift distribution.
“If you get nervous, just picture them in their underwear,” she might say. I picture the Clauses speaking before the lights go out and Mrs. Claus, of course, in sensible pajamas, face lathered in cold cream because she isn’t like the rest of us. She never gets lazy and lets herself go to bed with mascara still on.
But Santa sighs in frustration, “That’s part of the problem. I actually do have to see them in their underwear.”
Mrs. Claus is not concerned. Santa would never quit the job he loves so much and quite frankly, she wouldn’t give up her post either.
The letters to the North Pole are mainly to Santa, but sometimes Mrs. Claus gets correspondence, too. People want to know if she is bent out of shape that she doesn’t get recognition for her work. She should demand top billing and be the Beyoncé to his Jay-Z!
As if she would even want a seat in that ridiculously uncomfortable sleigh. No other woman in the world has a view like hers, of those reindeer hooves clamoring down the runway in their front yard, Santa waving goodbye with promises of chocolates from Sweden and kolaches from Texas.
The elves scurry away as soon as he’s in the air, racing to get dressed for their annual ugly (extra-small) sweater party. But not Mrs. Claus. She likes to stand there until the sleigh is nothing but a small dot in the sky.
All the hard work she put into the season is out of sight now, but she knows it’s not gone. Every night she stayed up until the midnight hour concocting unique gifts. Every time she decided to encourage the elves instead of letting them bicker and sulk. All of it is wrapped up in the freight compartment of that sleigh.
Some of the goodness will be lost on certain recipients, sure, but that’s just the way of the world. There are others who will feel the touch of that patience and love, and they will know just what they are getting.
“Thinking I would want to be like Santa — what a demotion!” Mrs. Claus laughs on her way back into the house, “People see a few pictures and think they have you all figured out.” Then she puts her feet up and mixes a hot toddy with a stirrer that looks a lot like the arm of her sensible spectacles.