Memories of Christmas come to me in flashes – snow pudding, legless gingerbread men and homemade mittens. These are often fuzzy, disjointed memories that you can’t really tie to a specific year, but there’s one story I can still lift from my memory like a slice of Christmas cake.

It was 1975, and I was 5 years old. I liked Winnie-the-Pooh and Wonder Woman (who doesn’t?).

My mother stayed home back then; my dad worked at the South Portland Fire Department – sometimes during the day, and sometimes all night.

He worked a lot, so on Christmas Eve, when he loaded up my brother and me for a McDonald’s holiday feast, I was all in. I’m sure we had salty fries, weak orange drink, hamburgers and McDonald’s cookies.

Once finished, Dad pushed us into the car to head for home. Halfway there, the radio announcer boomed, “An unidentifiable object has been seen flying over the city of Portland.”

At 5, I was savvy enough to realize that Scarborough, where our family lived, was just a couple miles away from Portland. My brother and I scanned the sky, but only saw stars.

Once home, we raced inside, where something magical had happened. Santa Claus had come! We’d just missed him. My grandparents were there, the tree was brimming with gifts and we had Christmas.

The adult in me now knows that Santa came on Christmas Eve only because my dad was working Christmas Day. It’s not easy for firefighters’ kids not to have their parents on holidays, but we all get it: That’s what these responders do. They work so people can stay safe. That’s their gift.

Because of my dad’s work, and a very lucky string of events, I got to experience the true magic of believing. That’s my favorite Christmas memory.

Julie True Kingsley

South Portland