A coat warms a young boy for Christmas

A teacher contacted me requesting a copy of an article that previously appeared in my column. She said she would like to read it again to her class, but she misplaced it. The teacher commented she felt in today’s troubled world, we need to hear more about acts of kindness. I agree, so here is a re-print:

I remember my first Christmas adventure with my grandma. I was just a kid. I recall riding across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big brother dropped the bomb: “There is no Santa Claus,” he proclaimed. “Everyone knows that!”

My grandma was not the gushy kind, had never been. I went to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always spoke the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a lot easier when swallowed with one of her “world-famous” cinnamon buns. I knew that they were famous because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. “No Santa Claus?” she said with exasperation. “Ridiculous! Don’t believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad. Just plain mad! Now, put your coat on, and let’s go.”

“Go? Go where, Grandma?” I asked. I hadn’t even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun.

“Where” turned out to be Knitt’s General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me $10. That was a lot of money in those days, more than I had ever handled.

“Take this money,” she said, “and buy something for someone who needs it. I’ll wait for you in the car.”

Then she turned and walked out, leaving me all alone.

I was only 8 years old. I’d often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.

For a few minutes, I just stood there, confused, clutching that $10 bill, wondering what to buy, and who to buy it for.

I thought of everybody I knew — my family, friends and neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.

I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Billy Rogers. He was a kid with a snotty nose and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Welch’s second grade class. Billy Rogers didn’t have a coat.

I knew that because he never went out for recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher he had a cough, but all us kids knew he didn’t have a coat. I fingered the $10 bill with growing excitement. I would buy Billy Rogers a coat!

I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood. It looked really warm, and he would like that.

“Is this a Christmas present for someone?” the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my $10 down.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied shyly. “It’s for Billy.”

The nice lady smiled at me as I told her about how Billy really needed a good winter coat. I didn’t get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper. (A little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible.) We wrote, “To Billy, From Santa Claus” on the package. Grandma said Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Billy’s house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa’s helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Billy’s house, and she and I crept quietly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge.

“All right, Santa Claus,” she whispered, “get going.”

I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, put the present down on his step, knocked on the door and ran back by Grandma.

Together, we waited excitedly for the front door to open. Finally, it did, and there stood Billy. He opened the package, and his eyes glistened as he put on his new corduroy coat.

Sixty years haven’t dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering beside my grandma in Billy Rogers’ bushes. That night I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were — ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team. I still have the Bible with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.

May you always believe in the magic of Santa Claus. Merry Christmas.

Question: Who was the president of City Dairy Inc. in 1959? (Answer on Page A5.)

Clothesline Conversation Answer: Ray S. Menning

Lorna Marquardt is a former Shawano mayor.