Before you ask yourself whether you’ve read this story before, I can say possibly – it’s a seasonal favorite of mine. This year my good friend Ed Madden’s annual holiday letter included a fabulous vintage Christmas card of a boxing Santa because it reminded him of my story. Perfect – thanks so much, Ed.
“Dear Santa Claus, how are you? I am fine.
I have been pretty good this year. Please bring me a pair
of boxing gloves for Christmas. I need them.
Your friend, Sheila Rae Morris”
“That’s a good letter,” my maternal grandmother I called Dude said. She folded it and placed it neatly in the envelope. “I’ll take it to the post office tomorrow and give it to Miss Sally Hamilton to mail for you. Now, why do you need these boxing gloves?”
“Thank you so much, Dude. I hope he gets it in time. All the boys I play with have boxing gloves. They say I can’t box with them because I’m a girl and don’t have my own gloves. I have to get them from Santa Claus.”
“I see,” she said. “I believe I can understand the problem. I’ll take care of your letter for you.”
Several days later it was Christmas Eve. That was the night we opened our gifts with both families. This year our little group of Dude, Mama, Daddy, Uncle Marion, Uncle Toby and I walked to my paternal grandparents’ house across the dirt road and down the hill from ours. With us, we took the Christmas box of See’s Chocolate and Nuts Candies that Dude’s sister Aunt Orrie who lived in California sent every year, plus all the gifts for everyone. The only child in me didn’t like to share the candy, but it wouldn’t be opened until we could offer everyone a piece. Luckily, most everyone else preferred Ma’s divinity or her date loaf.
The beverage for the party was a homemade green punch. My Uncle Marion had carried Ginger Ale and lime sherbet with him. He mixed that at Ma’s in her fine glass punch bowl with the 12 cups that matched. You knew it was a special night if Ma got out her punch bowl. The drink was frothy and delicious. The perfect liquid refreshment with the desserts. I was in heaven, and very grownup.
When it was time to open the gifts, we gathered in the living room around the Christmas tree, which was ablaze with multi-colored blinking bubble lights. Ma was in total control of the opening of the gifts and instructed me to bring her each gift one at a time so she could read the names and anything else written on the tag. She insisted that we keep a slow pace so that all would have time to enjoy their surprises.
Really, there were few of those. Each year the men got a tie or shirt or socks or some combination. So the big surprise would be the color for that year. The women got a scarf or blouse or new gloves for church. Pa would bring out the Evening in Paris perfume for Ma he had raced across the street to Mr. McAfee’s Drug Store to buy when he closed the barber shop, just before the drug store closed.
The real anticipation was always the wrapping and bows for the gifts. They saved the bows year after year and made a game of passing them back and forth to each other like old friends. There would be peals of laughter and delight as a bow that had been missing for two Christmases would make a mysterious re-appearance. Ma and Dude entertained themselves royally with the outside of the presents. The contents were practical and useful for the adults every year.
My gifts, on the other hand, were more fun. Toys and clothes combined the practical with the impractical. Ma would make me a dress to wear to school and buy me a doll of some kind. Daddy and Pa would give me six-shooters or a bow and arrows or cowboy boots and hats. Dude always gave me underwear.
This year Uncle Marion had brought me a jewelry box from Colorado. He had gone out there to work on a construction job and look for gold. I loved the jewelry box. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any jewelry; equally unfortunate, he hadn’t found any gold.
“Well, somebody needs to go home and get to bed so that Santa Claus can come tonight,” Daddy said at last. “I wonder what that good little girl thinks she’s going to get.” He smiled.
“Boxing gloves,” I said immediately. “I wrote Santa a letter to bring me boxing gloves. Let’s go home right now so I can get to bed.”
Everybody got really quiet.
Daddy looked at Mama. Ma looked at Pa. Uncle Marion and Uncle Toby looked at the floor. Dude looked at me.
“Okay, then, sugar. Give Ma and Pa a kiss and a big hug for all your presents. Let’s go, everybody, and we’ll call it a night so we can see what Santa brings in the morning,” Daddy said.
“Is it time to get up yet?” I whispered to Dude. What was wrong with her? She was always the first one up every morning. Why would she choose Christmas Day to sleep late?
“I think it’s time,” she whispered back. “I believe I heard Saint Nick himself in the living room a little while ago. Go wake up your mama and daddy so they can turn on the Christmas tree lights for you to see what he left. Shhh. Don’t wake up your uncles.”
I climbed over her and slipped quietly past my sleeping Uncle Marion and crept through the dining room to Mama and Daddy’s bedroom. I was trying to not make any noise. I could hear my Uncle Toby snoring in the middle bedroom.
“Daddy, Mama, wake up,” I said softly to the door of their room. “Did Santa Claus come yet?” Daddy opened the door, and he and Mama came out. They were smiling happily and took me to the living room where Mama turned on the tree lights. I was thrilled with the sight of the twinkling lights as they lit the dark room. Mama’s tree was so much bigger than Ma’s and was perfectly decorated with ornaments of every shape and size and color. The icicles shimmered in the glow of the lights. There were millions of them. Each one had been meticulously placed individually by Mama. Daddy and I had offered to help but had been rejected when we were seen throwing the icicles on the tree in clumps rather than draping them carefully on each branch.
I held my breath. I was afraid to look down. When I did, the first thing I saw was the Roy Rogers gun and holster set. Two six-shooters with gleaming barrels and ivory-colored handles. Twelve silver bullets on the belt.
“Wow,” I exclaimed as I took each gun out of the holster and examined them closely. “These look just like the ones Roy uses, don’t they, Daddy?”
“You bet,” he said. “I’m sure they’re the real thing. No bad guys will get past you when you have those on. Main Street will be safe again.” He and Mama laughed together at that thought.
The next thing my eyes rested on was the Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head game. I wasn’t sure what that was when I picked it up, but I could figure it out later. Some kind of game to play when the cousins came later for Christmas lunch.
I moved around the tree and found another surprise. There was a tiny crib with three identical baby dolls in it. They were carefully wrapped in two pink blankets and one blue one. I stared at them.
“Triplets,” Mama said with excitement. “Imagine having not one, not two, but three baby dolls at once. Two girls and a boy. Isn’t that fun? Look, they have a bottle you can feed them with. See, their little mouths can open. You can practice feeding them. Aren’t they wonderful?”
I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. They’re great. I’ll play with them later this afternoon.” I looked around the floor and crawled to look behind the tree.
“Does Santa ever leave anything anywhere else but here?” I asked. Daddy and Mama looked at each other and then back at me.
“No, sweetheart,” Daddy said. “This is all he brought this year. Don’t you like all of your presents?”
“Oh, yes, I love them all,” I said with the air of a diplomat. “But, you know, I had asked him for boxing gloves. I was really counting on getting them. All the boys have them, and I wanted them so bad.”
“Well,” Mama said. “Santa Claus had the good common sense not to bring a little girl boxing gloves. He knew that only little boys should be fighting each other with big old hard gloves. He also realized that lines have to be drawn somewhere. He would go along with toy guns, even though that was questionable. But he had to refuse to allow boxing gloves this Christmas or any Christmas.”
I looked at Daddy. My heart sank.
“Well, baby,” he said with a rueful look. “I’m afraid I heard him say those very words.”
(This is an excerpt from my first book Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing published in 2007 when I was 61 years old. The following Christmas one of my best friends Billy Frye gave me a pair of boxing gloves – better late than never, Santa.)
Slava Ukraini. For the children.