Part of why I was upset about the seashells (beyond normal almost-teenage angst) was that it had only been the year before that I realized there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. All I knew was that every year on the night before Easter, the Easter Bunny would call me on the phone and tell me to be a good girl. And every Christmas Eve the phone would ring and Santa's workers would inform my father that Santa had landed and he was approaching our house. A few moments later there'd be a knock at the door and … there was Santa. My brother and I would rush to greet him in our coordinated Christmas outfits. I'd be wearing a red overalls dress with a white shirt and red kneesocks, and Randy would be wearing red overalls shorts with a white shirt and red kneesocks. We'd sit on Santa's lap, one on each knee, and tell him what we wanted for Christmas. Then he'd tell us to get to bed early, that tomorrow was a big day, and he'd ho-ho-ho out the door. It didn't always go so smoothly — like the time that Randy peed on Santa's knee — but for the most part that was what had gone on for years, and I saw no reason to believe the kids at school when they said Santa was bunk. I saw him with my own eyes.
I probably would have kept believing if my cousin Meredith hadn't come over for a sleepover when I was eleven. She was a year older than I was, and that fact alone made her cool. I was really psyched that she was spending the night. It was Easter, and I must have said something about the Easter Bunny's imminent arrival because she was like, "You're kidding that you think there's an Easter Bunny." I said, "Yes, there is." Then she said, "Don't tell me you believe in Santa, too!" The kids at school were eleven like I was — what did they know? Why should I believe them? But Meredith was twelve. She knew stuff. I had to concede. If it hadn't been for her, who knows how long the charade might have gone on. Oh, and after that I never saw Meredith again. I think her disclosures convinced my parents that she was a bad influence.
As a kid I felt deceived to discover my parents had been lying, but now I realize it was pretty lovely. My mother loved decorating for and with us — coloring Easter eggs, carving jack-o'-lanterns, setting up moving Santa scenes at Christmastime. The seashells, the holiday characters, the decorations, these were pure, sweet moments that weren't about putting on a show, they were about making us happy. These were the heartfelt private gifts from my parents for which I never knew to thank them.
Looking back, what I remember with the most affection is being four years old and having a dad who would sit in the Jacuzzi with me and make up stories. My father was a slight man with slouchy shoulders that made him appear even smaller. For all his power in Hollywood, most of the time he'd appear in a jogging suit with a pipe. He spoke in a soft voice with a hint of Texas twang and would come right up to you to shake your hand or give you a hug even if he didn't know you well. The overall effect was very Wizard of Oz man-behind-the curtain — this unimposing, gentle guy is the famous Aaron Spelling? People always felt comfortable with him right away.