By Joann M. Ringelstetter
This week, I am departing a bit from our usual backroads stories, and I'm telling a story from my childhood. If you've read any of our "About" pages, you know that Ruth and I grew up in a small rural community and we lived the "backroads experience" every day. These childhood experiences brought us to where we are today, so we will be telling them now and again on this blog. I hope you enjoy them. Now for my story...
It was December, 1960 and I was five years old. My mother had taken us downtown with her so that she could do her weekly grocery shopping. The usual routine consisted of Mom going into the store and us kids sitting in the car picking fights with each other. There were five of us then, all under the age of nine, and it was a very different time than it is now.
John F. Kennedy had just defeated Richard M. Nixon to become the youngest person and the first Roman Catholic ever to be elected president. The Civil Rights Movement was heating up, with demonstrators holding sit-ins at lunch counters and other public places.
The radio was playing hits from Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, and Elvis Presley. The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons debuted on TV that fall and westerns were extremely popular. Every week, we watched shows like Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, and Bonanza. Little Joe, the youngest Cartwright on Bonanza, was my favorite.
It was rare for my mother to let us go into the store with her, but that day she decided that we could join her. Maybe it was because it was cold out or maybe it was because she knew something we didn’t. Whatever the reason, into the store we tromped in our hand-me-down winter coats and boots. Mom started shopping and as we followed her around the end of the aisle, there was Santa Claus! Wow, Santa Claus himself, right there in our grocery store!
He bent down and put his arms around me and asked, “What do you want for Christmas this year, little girl?” Times were lean then, and we usually received one and only one gift from Santa on Christmas Day. So I knew I had to ask for the one thing I wanted most. “I want guns,” I said, “you know, two pistols in holsters, like the one Little Joe wears.” Santa looked dismayed. “You’re a little girl,” he said, “you want a doll, don’t you?” “No,” I insisted. “I want guns.” Then he repeated, laughing as he said it, “No, you want a doll.” Clearly, he didn’t understand, and I walked away very disappointed in the man in the red suit who didn’t seem to know that he was supposed to bring me what I asked for, not what he thought I should want.
When Christmas morning dawned, I rushed to the Christmas tree to survey what was lying beneath it. There were five gifts and Santa apparently couldn’t afford wrapping paper because each gift simply had a name taped to the box. And sure enough, there it was -- the stupid doll that Santa thought I should have. As I scanned the other gifts, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a box with a cellophane top, and in the box were two shiny silver pistols with “ivory” grips in a double leather holster.
Now, there was cruelty at its finest. Not only did Santa stick me with a useless doll, but he had the nerve to bring my brother the very thing I had asked him for. Just as I was sinking into the depths of despair, I realized that MY name was on the box of pistols and the doll was for my little sister, Ruth. That was the best Christmas present I ever received from Santa Claus and I never doubted his judgment again.
Here’s hoping you get everything you’re wishing for. Merry Christmas!