In 1973 or 74 when I was 5 or 6 years old, my family and I lived in Phoenix. We had very little in the way of money or material things, but we were a happy little family, for the most part. My brother was just a baby, and my sister and I spent our days playing outside in the Arizona sunshine. That year was a particularly lean one for us. We drove up to Flagstaff to cut our own tree, free of charge back then, I think, and made our decorations from egg cartons and glitter. It must have been a hard time for my Mother and stepfather, but I can’t remember really wanting for much-we were always fed and clothed.
I can still remember sitting down at the kitchen table to write my annual letter to Santa. I told him that we didn’t have much, and that I knew he was very busy, but that I had a few small requests for him. My sister loved to read, and I asked him if he could bring her some books and something for my baby brother. We pretty much lived on tuna and macaroni those days and I asked Santa for a ham or turkey as a special treat for our family’s Christmas dinner. I closed my letter with a special request, stating: “if you have room in your sleigh, I would love a Barbie Dream Boat.” I was obsessed with Barbies, and the Dream Boat was all the Barbie rage that Christmas. I sealed the letter in an envelope, gave it to my Mother, and really didn’t think much more about it since Mom had told me that kids didn’t always get what they wanted from Santa, seeing as how he was a very busy man with lots of children on his list.
A few days before the “big day” we went out shopping with the little money we had. We bought gifts for our family and I remember how sad my Mom looked while we shopped that day. Looking back I know that her melancholy was due to not being able to give her children the fantastic holiday that all children desire. I was sad for her.
We returned home from our excursion and piled into the house, removing our coats and falling back into whatever activities were abandoned earlier in the day. Minutes later, I remember hearing bells and a hearty “Ho, Ho Ho” from the front yard of our run-down little house. My sister and I ran out onto the front porch to see our stepfather walking toward the house, arms full of brightly wrapped presents. Much to our delight, there were more on the tailgate of our old Willis Jeep, including a big ham. Arthur told us that Santa had just been there, saying that he had made a special early trip to our humble home. He explained that the bells we had heard were from Santa’s sleigh and that we had just missed seeing him fly away with his reindeer. We were all very excited, me especially, happy in the knowledge that Mr. Claus had read my letter.
Christmas morning was delightful! Santa had filled my entire list, complete with a set of Winnie-the-Pooh books for my sister and a Mickey Mouse blanket for my baby brother. There were gloves for all of us, and big marker sets for my sister and me. The biggest present of all was for me, and you never saw such a happy little girl when I finally took off the wrapping. It was the Barbie Dream Boat I had asked for! It was a happy Christmas, indeed!
I got many hours of fun playtime out of that cardboard and plastic boat, and we all enjoyed the presents that “Santa” had brought us. We filled our tummies with ham and had a wonderful day. For many years to come, I was a firm believer in Santa Claus, even though he never again gave me exactly the items on my wish list. After all, he was a very busy man with lots of children’s dreams to fulfill.
Many years later, my Mother and stepfather sat my sister and me down on the couch and said that they had something to tell us. They reminded us of that Christmas, which we still remembered well. We were 12 and 14 by that time, and our belief in Santa was fading fast, if not completely gone. They told us of a postal worker in Phoenix who picked one child’s letter each year, and that the letter he picked that year was mine. He had told my parents that my letter touched his heart because I had put myself last on the list, thinking of my family before asking for myself. They had pre-arranged a time for him to drop off the goodies, and staged it so that it had seemed as if Santa had really been there. I have to admit I was just a little crushed to find out that it wasn’t really St. Nick who had payed us a visit that year, but I knew in my adolescent mind that it just couldn’t have been.
It warms my heart to this day to share that story, and to think about the way that postal worker made our holiday a happy one. I often wish that I knew his name so that I could thank him personally, but I’m sure he knows how much it meant to all of us.
Here’s hoping that you have or will someday have such a magical Christmas, or some very special day like that. I wish, also, that you have a magical year.