Ladies and Gentlemen –
Christmas is almost here….
This is a story that is familiar to many of you…..
For others it may be your first time reading it
I sent this out the last couple of years and so many of you loved it that I decided to send it out again.
This story means a lot to me. It’s my story
I like to think of this as our little College Football Wizard Christmas Tradition…
I bring you this story of the first Christmas I can ever remember
I hope it touches your heart and motivates you to help the helpless.
I hope you enjoy it and I want to wish you all…..
A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy Healthy New Year….
This was Christmas 1962, when America didn’t have a clue what a Vietnam was and most women were wondering what hat Jackie would wear during the holidays.
Even at the ripe old age of four, this wonderful foster family, provided by the state, was kind enough to explain to me that Santa Claus, ole Saint Nick to you and me, didn’t visit children with no mommy and daddy. They were “bad” children, that’s why their mommies and daddies left them with the state. Made sense to me at the time. So, it goes without saying that my expectations were not very high this holiday season.
Imagine my surprise when Mrs. Prater, who lived next door in the duplex, told me that she was sure that Santa was going to drop off a present for me at her house. She would bring it over to me on Christmas day. What? Could this be true? I couldn’t hide my excitement or stop talking about Santa’s generosity. The whole concept of Santa Claus was beyond my ability to comprehend. But, I was able to grasp the idea of a “special” gift created just for me and built by elf’s working at union wage at the North Pole. Go figure.
I have been exposed to various family Christmas traditions throughout my extensive tour of state homes over the years before I had grown up. Now, This particular family enjoyed opening a variety of packages on Christmas Eve and saving a select few, along with Santa’s delivery, to open on Christmas morning.
On this Christmas Eve I was a very disinterested observer. Despite the fact I wasn’t going to get any gifts, after all it was pointed out in advance, that “taking me in” and feeding me was gift enough. I wanted to speed up the whole process, move on to Christmas morning, so I could get whatever wonderful item Santa would leave me at the Prater’s house.
Can you blame me?
I remember these events with perfect clarity, recalling the scents and colors of the scene around me. I can recall the feeling of unbridled enthusiasm of Santa’s impending arrival and the personal torment of a child wondering what he had done to make his parents hate him.
But I need to get back to the subject.
Somewhere during the course of the evening, with the sound of tearing wrapping paper and empty boxes mixed with the laughter of the adults and their biological child, underneath the shimmering Christmas tree, I took it upon myself to commit the ultimate breach in Christmas etiquette.
I was entrusted with prior knowledge of a special gift intended for the master of the house. As he ever so slowly began the process of unwrapping his “special” gift, he also, began the “What did you get me?” game, which I was totally unfamiliar with at this particular time.
I cannot recall if I was exasperated with the speed of the deliberations or I was attempting to be helpful with the questions from the master of the house. It may have been a combination of the two. But regardless of my reasoning, during the guessing game conducted by the master of the house with his “real” family, I suddenly and without warning blurted out, “It’s a Tool Box”.
It was as if someone pulled the plug to the volume control. I have never heard a room go from the bustle and excitement of Christmas, with the tearing of packages and all the electricity that comes with the moment, to complete silence in a micro second.
I was now the total focus of everyone’s attention. Which is never a good thing.
Total disgust from the gallery was matched by the murderous expression displayed by the man of the house. He slowly stood from his chair, stepping over the remnants of packages and his “tool box”. The only sound I heard was his feet making contact with several pieces of wrapping paper.
He made approximately four strides that seem to take forever to complete in my minds eye. He bent slowly, until our nose’s nearly touched. I can smell the spent Pall-Mall’s on his breathe and the sticky sweet smell of, what I now recognize as, Southern Comfort. Daniel in the Lion’s Den had nothing on me…..
Between clenched teeth he told me that I had ruined Christmas for the whole family. To be honest, I had figured that much out on my own at this point. However what I did not anticipate, which to this day baffles me, particularly considering my highly evolved survival skills, is what transpired next.
He struck me so fast on my face with his open hand that I wasn’t quite sure that I had been hit. However, all doubt left my mind when my buttocks made contact with the floor.
I remember the embarrassment of being knocked down, as opposed to the pain of the blow. It’s funny what you remember sometimes
I immediately rolled my body into a ball, in anticipation of being kicked and I wasn’t disappointed. Fortunately, he was barefooted and didn’t put a lot into it, or use his heel.
After a couple of kicks in quick succession I was told to get up and go to bed, while the rest of the “real” family continued with their holiday celebrations.
Excitement overshadowed any pain that I may have experienced thinking about Santa’s subsequent arrival and my gift to be left with Mrs. Prater. I drifted off to sleep and woke before dawn on Christmas morning.
I remember pacing frantically in my little room and trying not to wake anyone in the house. I didn’t want to wait for the Prater’s to bring Santa’s gift to me. As soon as I knew they were awake I would knock on the door and inquire about Santa’s visit the following evening. I had a plan.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for my plan to go into action. Shortly after the sun came up I smelled two very important and familiar items that Christmas morning. I smelled Miss Connie’s coffee pot and Mr. Prater’s pipe.
Already, in my overalls, I slipped on my boots and quietly made my way out of the duplex to the Prater’s front door. Once I was at the front door, I suddenly lost my nerve and found that I couldn’t knock. I was afraid of disappointment or maybe I was just plain afraid, I really don’t remember.
Good fortune was mine this day….
As I was turning to leave, Mr. Prater, God bless him, opened the door….
And said something about hearing shuffling on the porch, invited me in to the wonderful smell of Mrs. Prater’s pancakes.
I soon found myself eating like I was going to the electric chair. The exquisite taste of those pancakes, mixed with melted butter and maple syrup, washed down with ice cold milk made me momentarily forget all about gifts, packages or Santa.
Miss Connie and Mister Ken had already raised three boys by the time of this story and missed the sounds of boys in their house. I was always welcome in their modest home and felt warm and safe in their presence.
I don’t think I ever left their house when I wasn’t still chewing some marvelous delight prepared by Miss Connie.
While I was digging into my second helping of pancakes and Mr. Prater was asking me if I had seen Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers on the television set, Miss Connie interrupted and explained that they had found a gift with my name on it, under their tree for me this morning. Before I had a chance to finish chewing, she had set the gift down on the table next to me
The paper and ribbon were magnificent.
I had never seen such a package.
Smiling broadly, they encouraged me to go ahead and open it.
With maple syrup on my face and hands I began to tear into “my” package. I started pealing the paper, and next I broke the seal on the box encasing my Christmas surprise.
Inside the cardboard box, was a plastic bag holding some one hundred plastic soldiers and the top of the bag was advertising the popular television program “Combat”. There was an American jeep and a German pillbox in the bag as well. This was beyond my wildest expectations! I jumped up from the table hugging them both as tightly as I could and asked them to please thank Santa for me. I have never received a better gift anytime in my life.
I never forgot that gift, the kindness of those two people, or that particular Christmas on Outer Drive. In time, I moved on to a series of state homes, and the Prater’s were to lose their oldest son Jerry, in Vietnam.
But this moment for me is frozen in time.
It doesn’t take much effort to create a memory for someone who doesn’t have much hope.
Take the opportunity to bring a little hope to someone this Christmas season, create a smile or generate laughter in those who need it the most.
This is For Connie and Ken who have gone on to meet the Lord. Two sweeter or loving people have never walked this earth. They provided a poor child with love and care that will never be forgotten.