Making Christmas bright

Friday, December 10, 2004

When I was a youngster, the pages of the Sears and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogs were dog-eared by Thanksgiving. The pages had been scrutinized, folded and marked with a pencil.

If Santa or my parents or some rich, unknown benefactor had purchased every item I wanted, the total bill would have been over $1,000. A thousand smackeroos! Can you even imagine that much money?

Those were 1954 dollars, of course. That's when schoolteachers like my mother earned less than $1,000 a year for teaching dozens of students in a one-room school for eight months.

Even at a tender age I did not dream that anyone would ever get everything he wanted for Christmas, no matter how good he had been, or how well he did in spelling, or how cheerfully he carried in wood for the stove. I knew no one -- not even Santa, and maybe not even God -- had $1,000 to blow on one little boy in Killough Valley in the Ozark hills over yonder.

But there is a freedom that comes with knowing you can ask for absolutely everything when it is absolutely certain you won't get it.

So I did what all kids do: I dreamed of riding a new bicycle all over the farm and up the road to the highway to pick up the mail delivered by rural carrier Eugene Grassham (who on Sunday mornings filled the pulpit at Oak Grove church on the highway between Greenwood Valley and Webb Creek Valley -- Oak Grove being a church where sinners were made absolutely certain of their fiery fate and where a little boy who got too greedy with his Christmas list might be considered something of a sinner in his own right).

Rocky roads (with steep hills and mud holes) and cow paths in the pastures were the only places to ride a bicycle in Killough Valley, but that didn't matter. Fat balloon tires and a well-cushioned seat would make bike riding a joy. Every farm boy knew that.

As practical as I rationalized a bicycle would be, I can't think -- now that I am entering my dotage -- of many convincing arguments for all the other stuff I wanted in the catalogs, although a remote-controlled airplane still appeals to me ... .

Nowadays, instead of Christmas wish books, my wife passes along to me any catalog she gets that falls into the general category of "gadgets no one needs but appeal to men in a way that simply cannot be explained."

Here I am, at a ripened age, still drooling over slick photos of doodads with dials and switches and motors that surely hum like a cat purring in a patch of sunshine on a clear December day.

I suppose children today still pine for Christmas gifts beyond the reach of their parents or relatives to provide. They sit in front of the TV and watch commercials featuring toys that click and whir and spin and clatter, hoping and dreaming someone some day might have enough smackeroos.

For many children in Cape Girardeau, even the least expensive gift costs too much. Without help from a generous community, hundreds of youngsters will have no visit from the Toybox Santa this year.

No presents to open at all.

Not everyone needs a bike. But every child deserves to be remembered at Christmas. Won't you send a few smackeroos? Here's the address: Toybox, P.O. Box 4, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0004.

Thanks for your help. The smile on a child's face is your reward.

That's a Christmas gift we can surely afford.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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