A Christmas Tale© 1989
by Ned Hamson
Ohhh! Ahhh! Did I ever fall asleep. I stretched and twisted my neck as I tried to wake up. Sitting in my favorite chair, I was waiting to go down to our little town's library for a Christmas party. I am going to be Santa's helper. My wife asked me if I would help and I said I would. And tonight's the night. But all I can think of is the long trip, I must take after the party.
Business trips -- I love them, but this has been a long, long day. Hmm, I wonder what time it is? I've got to get my Santa suit on pretty soon. I look up at the fireplace mantle at the clock. I have two more hours. And after that six hours to travel; whew! I looked next to the clock at my favorite brass telescope. ( I've always loved looking at the moon and this is my favorite telescope to look at it with.)
My special brass telescope I got for Christmas very long ago. I walked over, picked it up and sat back down. I said to myself, "I think I just have time to give it a good polish before I get ready to go."
As I polished it, I began to remember and dream about the Christmas when my moma and papa handed it to me. It was very long ago, but the more I polished, the more it seemed like today.
It was the worst and best Christmas I ever had.
I was six years old; I loved listening to the owls, looking at the moon and I had dark brown hair that would never stay combed. (My moma called it an owl's nest and it nearly always fell over my bright blue eyes.)
I knew Christmas was really getting close. I could smell the Christmas tree in our front room, next to the fireplace. (You could see the tree from outside through our big front window.) I knew Christmas was really close too, because of the decorations in the shop windows and the decorations hanging from lamp post to lamp post across our main street.
Another sign that Christmas was close was seeing my moma and papa polishing their favorite treasures. Last Christmas moma told me that papa liked everything bright and clean for the holy day.
So this Saturday morning as I came downstairs, I saw moma in her room polishing the fancy pin given to her by her moma's moma (It was gold and silver colored with three purple stones that dangled and sparkled when moma put it on.
My moma smiled a lot but when she puts on the special moma's pin, her smile gets even bigger -- almost ear to ear.)
When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I could see papa sitting in his favorite chair. His eyes were almost closed. He was polishing the silver trophy he won for a foot race. He polished it very slowly. (I love it when Uncle Jeff tells the story how papa won the race and the trophy. Uncle Jeff tells it at each holiday and when he gets near the end of the story, papa always turns a little red and smiles real big as he walks over and picks up his trophy.
I am sure Uncle Jeff will tell it again on this Christmas morning. The best part is near the end. Uncle Jeff's voice gets louder like the man calling the race. "It's Smith and Hancock! It's Smith and Hancock! It's Smith and Hancock!" Then your dad grinned. He was ten yards back of Smith and Hancock -- with only 30 yards to go! "It's Smith and Hancock! It's Smith and Hancock! And...Littlefield?! Wins the race!!"
My moma giggles and has a little tear. She remembers... she saw the race.
I was still watching papa polish his trophy and he looked up. He turned a little red and said, "little Ned what are you looking at?" "Oh nothing. I am waiting for Uncle Jeff, we're going to take Princess (our beautiful brown and white and very clumsy long-haired dog) for a walk downtown." "And get a donut, I'll bet," papa said. (Uncle Jeff always got me a donut on Saturday mornings, but it was always supposed to be a surprise.)
"You keep good hold of Princess," papa said, "She'll run after any good smell she finds." (My papa always laughed about Princess. He'd tell people she was the clumsiest shoveled-nosed dog alive, because she was so busy smelling the ground she'd run into things.)
I looked up and saw Uncle Jeff at the bottom of the walk. He looked left and right, up and down and then pulled his watch from his pocket. He looked at his watch and rubbed the back of it on his pants leg. Uncle Jeff loved that watch that his papa's papa had given to him.
Then he ran up the walk and the stairs and pretended to run into the door, like he always did. And I laughed, like I always did.
We went around back and got Princess and started our walk. Princess with her nose in the wet grass pulled me left and then right. Past two blocks of houses, we turned up a block and onto our main street. There were bells and ribbons and pictures of Santa in every shop window.
When we passed the jewelry shop and were in front of the bakery, we stopped. "Boy, I could sure eat a donut,"said Uncle Jeff. "Little Ned, you hold Princess and I'll be right back," he said.
The Shiny Yellow Tube... Just then Princess smelled something new and pulled me in front of the jewelry store. I hung on to the rail to keep my feet. Then I looked in the window and my heart took a leap! Right in front of my face was a big picture of the moon...with a shiny yellow tube in front of it. I loved the moon...but I thought that the shiny tube was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. I was glued to the window, looking at the tube, when Uncle Jeff tapped me on the shoulder saying "Have I got a deal for you! I bought too many donuts. Will you help me eat one or two?" "Sure, Uncle Jeff," I said, not taking my eyes off the shiny tube.
"Boy, I've never seen you so little excited about a donut little Ned,"he said. "Uh huh," I said. "Oh," said Uncle Jeff, "I see. You're looking at that telescope." "A tele-what," I said. "A telescope..." he said "with it you can see the moon like it's right in your face. Hmm, that's beautiful solid brass. Pretty expensive, I'd guess. Say, little Ned, have you got your moma and papa a Christmas present yet?"
"No, but Mr. Jones is going to pay me for helping him clean up his shop. Next week I'll have the money and then I can buy something," I said.
When we got back to my house, Uncle Jeff looked left and right, up and down and pulled out his watch. "Ned, go tell your dad, I have to talk with him out here," he said. I ran out back, put Princess in the yard and then into the house. Uncle Jeff waited outside, still rubbing his watch on his pants leg.
Moma and papa were in the kitchen in the back of the house. Papa was helping moma wash her long black hair in the big sink. (Moma had beautiful shiny long, long black hair.
When she unrolled it -- she could sit on it in a chair!)
"Papa, Uncle Jeff's outside and he wants to talk to you out there."
Moma and papa looked at each other. And papa said, "Okay...little Ned, you hold the towels for moma's hair."
In a few minutes he came back. Moma had her hair all wound up in two towels. Papa said, "Ned, why don't you go out and brush out Princess' snarls." As I walked into the work room, papa closed the kitchen door.
I looked and I looked and finally saw the brush on a shelf by the kitchen door. As I picked it up I could hear papa say, "It's been too slow. It might be a slow, low Christmas unless Jeff and I can sell some more. We'll have to go up to Detroit next Tuesday night." I heard moma gulp, "But, but...you'll still be able to...to...?" "Yes" papa said, "but I'll have to leave right after." I heard him step toward the door, so I skittered out the side door to brush Princess.
As I brushed her I wondered to myself, "I wonder what a slow, low Christmas could be? As I brushed, I thought about what I'd get moma and papa with the money Mr. Jones would pay me for sweeping his floor. He said to come see him on Monday after school and he'd pay me.
Boy was this going to be a week to top all weeks. Monday, I would get present money and Tuesday Santa was coming to the library where Mr. Jones' daughter worked. School went fast and finally I was running downtown; to see Mr. Jones and to get paid!
I ran and splashed in the puddles left by the big noon-day rain. I ran past the jewelry store looking at the brass telescope, past the bakery and just before the alley that led to Mr. Jones' shop -- I skidded to a stop. In the window of the gift shop was a big brown owl. "Boy," I said to myself, "moma and papa both love owls. Maybe I can get them this owl for Christmas."
I went in and looked at the owl. Miss Pauline came up and said, "Hello, little Ned. Isn't that a lovely owl." "Oh yes", I said, "does it cost a lot...I'd like to get it for my moma and papa." "Oh," she said, "it costs a lot, but let me see what else I've got."
She went in the back of the shop and came out with a big smile on her face. Miss Pauline said, "Here, look what I've got." She held out a little white owl with one eye closed in a wink. She said, "I'll help you paint it a pretty brown." "Oh," I gasped to myself..."it's perfect!" (I remembered how moma would smile and giggle when papa winked at her. And she would call him an old hoot owl. Yes, it was perfect.)
"How much?" I asked. "Two dollars, little Ned", she said. "How much is that?" I asked. She pulled out out a shiny quarter. She held up four fingers on each hand and said, "Eight quarters, Ned." "I'll be back after I see Mr. Jones," I hollered as I ran out the door.
I ran all the way up to Mr. Jones' door and skidded to a stop. Just in the door was Mr. Jones who said: "Hey young man! Not so fast! You'll bring back all the dirt you swept out last week! " (His voice was low and quick. Most kids were afraid of him, but I had seen his secret grin. He told me great stories and would let me help hand him wood as he worked. Then last week he said, "I have a deal for you." "I'll pay you if you sweep out the shop. I'll pay you next week.")
Now he looked down at me and said, "Pay day -- right young Ned?" "Yes sir, Mr. Jones", I said. Mr. Jones looked down at the floor and said, "Well, it's been real slow but I said what I said young Ned." "What's slow Mr. Jones?" I asked. "Business young Ned," he said. "Not much money...it's going to be a slow Christmas. How much did I say I'd pay you?"
I didn't know and he hadn't said but I thought about Miss Pauline and the owl and said, "this many quarters." And I held up four fingers on each hand.
Mr. Jones' mouth popped open and his pipe dropped to the floor. As he stooped to pick it up he said, "that's two dollars...what do you need that for?"
I blurted out the story about the owl, Miss Pauline, the wink and my moma's giggle. His face got very long, but he said, "All right." "Just wait." He turned around and picked up a small brown paper bag from his bench. He put his hand in his pocket and then into the bag. I could hear the coins clink as they dropped into the bag. He folded the bag up very small and handed it to me.
He said, "Put this into your pocket young Ned and be very very careful. Go straight to Miss Pauline's and hand it to her."
"Thank you," I yelled as I started to run out. "Be very careful", he said. My heart thumped, "I can get the owl! I can get the owl!" I looked back as I ran out and saw his secret grin as he turned back to his work bench.
I careened around the corner of the alley and went full speed toward Miss Pauline's. Then I heard the whoosh of the water from the mid-day rain under the street grate. I stopped. I loved to listen to the water whoosh under the street after a big rain. And this had been a big rain -- it was whooshing real loud.
I sat down on the curb with my feet on the street grate. I looked down at the water and listened to it whoosh!
Then I thought, I better count my money to be sure Mr. Jones gave me enough. I leaned back and very carefully pulled the bag out of my pocket. I opened the bag and turned on the curb. I didn't want to chance dropping it in the grate.
I carefully laid each shiny quarter down on the curb one by one. I put a finger on each one. One-two-three-four fingers. One-two-three-four fingers. Eight! Enough for the owl! Just then I heard a big woof and a shout.
Up the street ran Jimmy Johnson chasing his dog Homer. (Papa called him Jumper because Homer always jumped on people he liked. And Homer liked me.)
"Stop Homer! Stop Homer!" Jimmy shouted. I laughed. Just then Homer twisted and jumped right on me. As I tumbled over the curb... I saw...the quarters falling into the grate. I lunged at them and saw the last one as it slipped under the whooshing water.
"Oh no!" I cried, "no owl, no giggle. What will I do? Oh, what will I do." I started to cry real hard. Jimmy ran up and grabbed Homer who was licking my face. Jimmy stood there and hollered, "Cry baby! Cry baby!" And he laughed.
I shouted back at him, "I lost my Christmas money when Homer jumped on me! Jimmy looked worried and then he said, "You'd better not tell!!! You'll get in big trouble for losing your money...you, you...you cry baby! Then he ran off with Homer.
I sat there on the curb. The water whooshed and I cried and I cried,
"What will I do? What will I do?" kept ringing in my ears. I got up and slowly step-by-step walked home. When I passed the gift shop, Miss Pauline looked out and waved. I put my head down and ran. I thought to myself, "Did she see? Does she know? Does she think I am a cry baby too? No, she couldn't know. But if anyone finds out, I'll be in big trouble. No present for moma and papa, oh what will I do. I have no money. It will be a slow, low Christmas for sure."
The next day lasted forever and ever. Moma was smiling as she left me at school and said, "Tonight's Santa's night at the library little Ned. It'll be a big treat!" "Sure,"I thought "I am the world's worst kid. Mr. Jones said to be careful and I wasn't. Jimmy saw me crying and if I tell anyone about this, I'll get into trouble. And I won't have any present for moma and papa! What will I do? What will I do?"
At school every time Jimmy saw me he would say, without talking out loud, "cry baby! cry baby!" My head hung low when moma came to get me at school. She said, "Are you all right little Ned?" "Uh huh," I said. "You must be shy about meeting Santa Claus tonight," she said, "I am going to take you straight to the library so you can wait for Santa." She looked straight at me and said, "Now you stay close to Mr. Jones' daughter and she will look out for you. I will pick you up afterwards; papa and I have to do something tonight."
I barely heard her. All I could hear was my self saying to myself, "What will I do? What will I do? I can't give my moma and papa a present, I can't tell because I'll get into trouble with everyone, and I won't see Mr. Jones' grin. And I can't cry because then moma will know and the kids and Jimmy will laugh at me. I wish I could tell someone. What will I do? What will I do?"
Moma gave me a little shove though the library door and waved to Mr. Jones' daughter. (Mr. Jones' daughter's nose and eyes wrinkled up real tight when she laughed. And she laughed a lot.) Now her nose and eyes were wrinkled real tight as she waved back to moma and said "I'll look out for him and put him to work."
I walked up to her with my head down at the ground looking at my shoes. She stooped down and pushed back the black, black hair out of her face and she looked straight into my eyes. She said, "Oh little Ned, is something wrong? Is everything all right?" "Yikes! She knows," I thought, "no she couldn't possibly. But her big brown eyes said she knew something was wrong." (Moma had told me that Mr. Jones' daughter was a special lady who could laugh off the biggest trouble and cry for a cut finger or a bird whose baby was hurt.)
But I couldn't tell her, much as I wanted to. Then her father would know and he'd never give me his secret grin again. I didn't -- I couldn't -- say anything. She said low and quick, "Everything will be all right, little Ned...you'll see." "If she only knew, if she only knew," I thought, "What will I do? What will I do?"
"Little Ned, will you help me and watch my little Nan while she colors?"
I nodded my head and said, "yes mame." I liked little Nan. She had black, black hair like her mother, and giggled a lot like her too. But she'd cry when Jimmy and others called her ‘Nanny, Nanny the goat.' When I was around they wouldn't do that because I once socked Jimmy for saying that.
I watched her draw and wondered how a four year old could draw so good....when I was six and still couldn't draw a straight stick. She had her nose nearly on the paper drawing line after line, turning them into birds and flowers. I forgot about time and Christmas for a while. Nan would look straight up without looking at anything and then would draw some more.
Then I heard some noise. Mothers and kids were coming in to wait for Santa. Jimmy came in and so did our gang.
Nan's mother came over and said, "hurry up you two or you'll be the last in line." "Oh gosh," I thought, "I don't want to do this." But she pushed us along. And the other kids were watching.
Jimmy came up and whispered into my ear, "If Santa finds out what you did, you won't get anything at all!" Great! I didn't need to be reminded. What will I do? What will I do?
Then I heard some funny sounding bells and in came Santa. At least I thought it was Santa. His stomach wasn't as big as the other Santa's helpers I'd seen in pictures and his nose wasn't red. And his cheeks weren't even pink!
He stretched his neck left and right and up and down and looked a a little confused. He sat down with a bag of candy canes and put them on the floor. All the kids were giggling and pushing, then Santa looked right at me...I put my head down. I thought, "I wonder if he knows. They say Santa knows everything. No, he couldn't, could he?"
Then Santa shouted, "Everybody sit down. Everybody sit down. I want to tell you a story about the first Christmas gift." We all sat down. I looked at Nan's moma and she put her shush finger up to her mouth and then she giggled.
Santa started talking, first loud and then soft; first straight ahead and then from the side of his mouth.
"Yes, yes. I want to tell you about, about...the first Christmas gift." Then he stopped and looked around. I looked around too. Nan's mother made a move with her hands that said, "Go on! Go on!" This was sure a strange Santa. He didn't seem sure of what to say. Then he took a deep breath, pulled at his beard and began to speak.
"The first Christmas was God's Christmas. He wanted to show all the people how much he loved them. So he gave them baby Jesus as a symbol of his great great love. And some people who were close, who knew about presents,and were there when God set Jesus down for us."
They knew how great was the present and how great was his love. So they decided to give baby Jesus presents as a sign of their love for God and his present -- Jesus. They said their gifts were full of the same love."
This sounded real nice, but I wasn't sure what Santa meant. Other kids were looking around too. The mom's were shaking their heads yes, but their eyes were saying, "please, please?" Then Santa got real quiet and started again.
"Look kids, Do you want to know the secret of the first and always Christmas gift?" We all leaned forward and said "Yes!" Everyone loved secrets. They were like Mr. Jones' grin. Then Santa sat up straight and said:
"Inside of the first and every gift since is an extra secret gift put there by God and little baby Jesus. And by the three wise men who saw baby Jesus born. Would you like to know what it is?"
"Yes! Yes!" many shouted. We leaned closer.
Then he said, "Moms turn around! This secret is only for kids." He said this real loud. And they all turned around.
"Come real close kids, real close." We gathered around. He grabbed one of Nan's crayons and wrote on a piece of paper. He held it up so we could all see it. There were these letters on it AHASAK ILY. Then he said real soft so only we could hear, "Ahasak Ily, Ahasak Ily. Repeat after me: Ahasak Ily, Ahasak Ily." We said it and giggled because no one knew what it meant. Nan squeaked, "what does it mean? what does it mean?" Then Santa said, "Come closer, come closer; I'll write it out and say it for those who can't read.
"A hug, A smile, A kiss, I love you; that's what it means."
"It is inside of each of your gifts, and yours for your moma's and papa's. It's God's gift to you. A hug, a smile, a kiss and an I love you inside of every gift, big or small. Do you see?"
We all understood. No one spoke, we just looked around and nodded at each other and smiled. We knew the secret.
Then Santa said, "Now kids, let's give that gift to your moms and then I'll hear what you want for Christmas; one at a time. But first and be quiet; what's inside of every gift?" "Ahasak Ily," we said softly.
Now Santa told us to turn around and face the mom's and to wait for his signal to show and tell our mom's about the gift. But he said don't say the secret word. He said, "When I tell the moms to turn around, I want you to say, ‘a hug!' Then hug yourself and toss it to your mom. And then say, ‘a smile!' Then smile and pick it off your face and toss it to your mom. And then yell, ‘a kiss!' Then kiss your hands and blow the kiss to your mom and holler ‘I love you!' Okay?" Then Santa said in a loud voice, "Moms, turn around!" The kids have something for you, don't you kids?"
And we gave the moms a hug, a smile, a kiss and an I love you. I sent mine to Mr. Jones' daughter since my moma wasn't there.
Some of the moms just laughed, some cried, Nan's moma laughed and cried at the same time.
Then Santa said, "Now let's hurry up. Santa's got a lot to do tonight. Now come up one at a time." I was happy and so was Nan. But then Jimmy came over and said, "Remember -- don't tell!" I was right back at the bottom.
I looked at my shoes and shuffled along. I wanted to run home, but all the kids would see. What will I do? What will I do?
Kids were giggling, some stood on Santa's knees. I got closer and when Santa saw me, I ducked my head.
Then it was my turn. I looked up. His eyes looked like he knew. "Oh boy, what will I do?" Little Nan pushed me and Santa picked me up and sat me on his knee. He leaned down to me and said, "What do you want for Christmas, little one with the floppy hair?"
I looked down and mumbled, "I don't know." He got quiet and said, "then tell me...have you gotten something for your moma and papa?" Something popped inside and I couldn't hold it in any more. I pulled his head next to my mouth and cried and then blurted out the whole story so only he could hear: about how I tried, Mr. Jones, Miss Pauline, the owl, the whoosh, Jimmy and Homer. He held my head with his hand and said, "here, wipe your eyes on my beard. Have I got a deal for you. Take this candy cane...don't eat it! Put it under your pillow and dream real hard. Dream about what to get for your moma and papa and yourself. When you see it in your dream, I'll hear you. This is going to be a special Christmas for you."
I felt better because I'd told, but still didn't know what to do. Nan's mother took me home. She said my mother and dad were running late.
When I walked in, my moma asked, "Did Santa give you anything?" I held up the candy cane. "Are you going to eat it now," she said. "Oh no!" And I hurried up the stairs to my room. I put the candy cane under the pillow and checked twice to make sure it didn't show.
I looked for papa. He wasn't in his chair. I ran into the kitchen and asked moma where he was. Moma said, "He and Uncle Jeff had to go away for a business trip tonight, but he will be home in a few days. (I missed papa but loved it when he came home. He'd always run up the stairs, two-at-a-time, and holler, ‘What a day! What a day!' Then he would pick me up, give me a hug and a kiss and shove a small gift in my pocket.)
Yes, I'd be happy when papa got home. Then I looked up at the fireplace mantle and didn't see papa's trophy. "Oh no!" I thought to myself, "no shiny trophy-no Christmas- a slow, low Christmas. What will I do? What will I do?"
I ran into the kitchen and said, "Moma, moma can I see your pin, your pretty pin?" "No Ned," she said, "it's time for bed. I put it away. It's time for bed."
I crawled under the covers and moma kissed me and said, "Good night my little angel owl." "Oh!" I cried to myself. And then I felt the candy cane under the pillow. I shut my eyes real tight. But all I could see and all I could hear was the last edge of the shiny quarter as is slipped under...and the whoosh of the water.
The next two days went quickly and slowly at the same time. I couldn't see anything when I held the candy cane. "That Santa!" I thought, "what a story he told. ‘Have I got a deal for you!. Harrumph!"
I was home after school when I heard a car door slam. I looked out the big front window and saw papa talking to Uncle Jeff through the car door. He turned and I held my breath, waiting for him to run up the steps, two-at- a-time -- and to pick me up and.... He walked up the walk and kicked at a leaf and took the steps, one-step-at-a-time.
He came in the door and patted me on the head. As he walked up the stairs he said, "tell moma, I'm tired, I'm taking a nap, little Ned."
"Oh no," I thought, "What have I done." I sat on the bottom stair step and cried and cried. Moma peeked out the kitchen door and said, "Is that papa?" "Yes," I said as I wiped my eyes. "He's upstairs," I said and ran outside and called to Princess. We sat on the back steps for a long, long time. I hugged her as hard as I could. I cried and I cried, and hugged Princess. Princess just wagged her stubby tail and licked the tears from my cheek. I hugged her some more.
After dinner, I went straight to bed. I didn't reach for the candy cane. All I could think was, "What will I do? What will I do? Christmas is two days away and what will I do?"
The days passed like a bad dream. I went to school, sat in the corner, came home and sat with Princess. "Boy," I thought, "I should be a dog." All she has to do, and can do, is love and lick! I told her what had happened. She didn't care. She licked me harder and climbed up in my lap.
Yesterday, moma started making Christmas cookies and wrapping them up in colored paper. Papa got the tree lights and put them next to the fire place.
And now it was Christmas Eve! Moma was wrapping cookies and papa was putting lights and glass bulbs on the tree. "Come help me little Ned," he said.
I looked up at him and said, "I'm tired and want to go to bed. Can Princess sleep with me tonight? Is it okay?" Moma looked at me and then at papa and with her eyes said, "Okay?" Papa said, "sure, it's Christmas Eve." But papa's trophy was still not where it should be. "A slow, low Christmas," I said to myself. "What little Ned?," papa said. "Good night papa, good night moma," I said.
I got Princess inside. She swept up the stairs with her nose glued to each step. Papa laughed. When I got to my room, Princess was sniffing under my pillow. Oh no! My candy cane!. I forgot! But Princess already had half in her mouth. "All right," I said "but no more! It's all I've got and I need it tonight!
I really was tired. I remembered Santa's story and smiled and gave Princess a hug. She kissed me a slurpy one, laced with candy cane breath. And then something popped inside. "I've got it!" I said to myself. "Ahasak Ily. That's all I've got. I hope it's enough."
I gave Princess the rest of the candy cane and sneaked out my door to the top of the stairs.
Moma and papa were still there; trimming the tree and wrapping cookies. I thought, "I'll have to wait until they go to sleep." I went back to my room and told Princess to wake me up when moma and papa were asleep. As I fell asleep, I thought about that strange Santa.
Slurp! Slurp! Princess was licking my face. "Okay, okay," I whispered. "You be quiet and stay here."
I went down stairs and found a box, some string, some paper and a pencil. I wrote very carefully and wrapped up the box and wrote moma and papa on it. Then I stuffed it way back under the tree, behind all the other packages of cookies and things.
I went back to bed and almost fell right to sleep with my arms around Princess. But as the wings of sleep came down on me (that's what moma told me sleep was; the wise old owl's wings protecting me through the night), I caught a glimmer of the telescope in the jewelry store.
Sooner than I thought it could be, papa was yelling up to me, "It's Christmas! It's Christmas! Everyone come down!" I jumped up happy as can be. "It's Christmas!, It's Christmas!" I said to Princess. We both ran to the stairs. I stopped and wondered if moma and papa would like my gift.
Then I tumbled down the stairs and skidded to a stop in front of the Christmas tree. Moma was holding papa, but she wasn't wearing her pin and oh no! papa's trophy was still not there. "Will they like my present. Will they like my present," I thought, or "will it be a slow, low Christmas for me?"
Moma looked up at me and said, "Uncle Jeff will be here soon, shall we wait for him to open the presents?" "No moma," I said, "let me give yours and papa's first." They looked at each other with questions in their eyes. "All right," papa said, "where is it little Ned?" "Right here," I said as I dug under the tree and handed it to moma.
She smiled and gave me a hug. I said, "open it moma! open it papa!" They opened it together and pulled out the slip of paper and looked at it. Papa looked at moma, raised his eyebrows, smiled and said, "AHASAK ILY! Sounds like a town in New Jersey." Moma looked straight at me and said, "What's it mean little Ned?"
I was scared. This wasn't going to work. It's still a mess. What will I say? What will I say? Moma said again, "What's it mean little Ned?"
I took a deep breath and something popped inside. I opened my mouth and out came the story: about Mr. Jones, the owl, Miss Pauline, the shiny quarters, the whoosh, Jimmy and Homer and what Santa had said.
They didn't say a thing.
Then I said, "I didn't have anything to give so I thought I could give you the gift inside -- Ahasak Ily...a hug, a smile, a kiss and an I love you. But it's a secret just between you and me, and every time you look at it you will see -- the gift from inside of me...do you see?"
Moma was crying and laughing at the same time; so was papa. And he never cries. We hugged and smiled and kissed and told each other, I love you. Even Princess jumped in!
Just then the door burst open -- it was Uncle Jeff and he said, "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!" He looked up and down and left and right, and patted his leg. "Well," he said, "why all the red eyes! Let's open some presents!"
Uncle Jeff passed out the presents like he always did. An apple and special cheese for papa, cookies for Uncle Jeff, and ribbons and pears for moma, some colored pencils and a balloon for me. Then Uncle Jeff bent real low under the tree in the spot where I had put moma's and papa's present and said, "what's this I see?" Moma and papa put their hands up to their faces like they were real surprised. (I had seen them play like this before.)
Uncle Jeff, with the biggest smile I had ever seen said, "Well, it's for you little Ned! The tag says it's from moma, papa, Uncle Jeff... and Santa? (Now Moma really did look surprised)
The box wasn't very big, it was long and thin. I held it like I had held Princess yesterday. "Come! Get it open," said Uncle Jeff, "I want to see." I ripped off the paper with moma's help and opened the box and oh, oh! It was brass and the most beautiful thing I had ever seen...my telescope!
Ring! Ring! Ring! "Oh, it's the telephone," I said to myself as I woke up and got out of my favorite chair. I looked at the clock, I still had half an hour before I had to go to the library and play Santa's helper. I ran back to the kitchen and picked up the phone. "Hello," I said.
"Ned, hurry on up! The kids are going crazy over here!" the voice said. I said back, "but it's not time and I don't have the suit on yet." "Well hurry and don't forget the bells!" she said. "Okay, okay," I said. Then quick and low, she said, "do you really have to leave before I get home?" "Yes Nan," I said," but I'll be back soon."
I ran upstairs, two-at-a-time. I pulled on the official Santa's helper's suit.
I straightened the beard and...oh no! I wasn't going to have time to make my nose red and my cheeks pink like I wanted to. And this pillow just won't do. "I'll just have to stick my belly out," I said to myself. Homer, our new cat, just looked at me like cats do and purred.
I ran down the stairs and out the door. I grabbed the bells and gave them a yank -- all they did was clank.
I jumped into the car and drove down to the little library where Nan worked. I thought about the bells, but there wasn't anything I could do. They'll just have to do.
As I pulled up behind the library, I thought to myself, "I wonder what I should do? I wonder what I should do?"
Nan opened the library's back door and pulled me in. She said, "Have you got the bells?" I held them up. She stepped back and looked at me and giggled. "You look just fine," she said. But I was thinking, "What shall I do? What shall I do? I've never been a Santa's helper before!"
I asked Nan, "What shall I do?"
She said, "just be Santa, it'll do." "Great!" I thought, I still didn't know what to do, and I have to drive to Detroit tonight!
I hid behind a screen while the head librarian said, "Kids what do you hear? What do you hear?" I clanked the bells. They didn't make much noise. The librarian said again, "What do you hear?" And with her hand behind the screen, she motioned to me, "ring real hard!" I did but all they did was clank. Then she said, "It must be Santa!" All the kids began to scream and giggle. And I walked out.
All I could see was what looked like a hundred kids in this little room. And they were all looking at me! I didn't know where to go and looked around. Someone pushed me towards what seemed to be the tiniest chair. "Sit there and give them each a candy cane," someone said. "Now kids, Santa wants to talk to you, line up and Santa will talk to you!" the head librarian said. But all the kids did -- was crowd up.
I could see pretty faces, freckled faces, a dark mop of hair looking at the floor, and red heads and blondes and kids with shiny black hair. All of them were wiggling and squeaking and giggling and looking at me.
All I could think about was my trip and hope that I could make these kids happy. What shall I do? What shall I do?
I opened my mouth and barked, "Santa wants to talk to you...everybody sit down!" They did. The moms looked puzzled but still eager for their kids. I started again: "Santa's got a story for you." "What story?" I thought to myself, "I can't just do the Ho! Ho! Ho! bit...that's not in me." Then I remembered the first Christmas and the baby Jesus story. I wanted to get it just right, so I started real slow and stumbled at first. When I finished, the kids and the moms smiled but they looked at each other with puzzles in their eyes. And the dark mop of hair just kept looking at the floor.
I took another deep breath and something popped inside, AHASAK ILY, "That's it!" I thought, "I'll tell them about Ahasak Ily."
"Do you want to know the secret about the first and always Christmas gift?" Then everything just flowed. When the kids blew their kisses and hollered "I love you!" some of the moms were laughing, some were crying, and Nan laughed and cried at the same time. I saw old Mr. Jones way in the back, and he grinned a big secret grin.
I was having a ball and wasn't even thinking about my trip. I held some on my lap when they told me what they wanted, and some of them stood on my knees when I gave them their candy canes. They laughed and they giggled. I asked some if they had gotten something for their moma and papa. When they said they did, I was sure to tell them their's would be a special Christmas. I saw the little dark mop, but he was still looking down. I got lost with the other kids and was just having fun.
Then there he was right in front of me. Someone gave him a little shove. I picked him up and put him on my knee. I leaned over and said, "Do you know what you want for Christmas? Do you know?" He didn't look up. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't know." I didn't know what else to say, so I leaned closer, looked into his eyes and said, "Have you gotten your moma and papa something yet?" He started to blubber and pulled me real close. He said, "I tried, but I lost my money instead!"
I wanted to cry with him. I didn't know what to say. I wiped his tears with my fake beard. I took a deep breath and again, something popped inside. I said, "Have I got a deal for you! Take this candy cane and stick it under your pillow. Dream real hard and it will be all right. Santa will hear you. This will be aspecial Christmas for you!"
Ahasak Ily to All!
If you wish to pass this along to a friend, please do.
With thanks to a woman and her two children in the Cleveland Greyhound bus station and the policeman and minister who helped her, and some thanks as well to O'Henry for inspiration on parts of this story.