Few things were as sacred to my childhood as the annual letter to Santa Claus.
My wish lists (at least from my perspective) were works of art: carefully planned, prioritized and delivered on time.
When we spent Christmas with my grandparents in Kentucky, I’d even add a postscript to that effect to make sure the hoped-for spoils of my good behavior were routed properly.
One such letter, it turns out, somehow survived the ages. I was looking for something in our storage room and came upon a taped-up box of books and papers from my dad, who passed away 17 years ago.
Like a gift from the past, it was carefully tucked into a manila envelope that bulged with notes, drawings and Father’s Day cards I had given him over the years.
I am guessing I was 6 – maybe 7 – that Christmas, based on requests for toys like the Spirograph and a Fright Factory set. Also on the list were Monkees records, pocket knives and walkie-talkies.
At the top of the page, though, was the real target, the Holy Grail of gifts: a rock pick.
It was underlined, highlighted with an arrow and emphasized with a notation that “I want this most.”
Something gave me an itch to become a geologist. I think it stemmed from an outing with my grandfather to the Ohio River fossil beds near Louisville, Ky.
What about the rest of the story? I did, indeed, find a rock pick under the tree that year. It was heavy and sharp – the real McCoy – with gleaming steel and a hickory handle painted red.
Although I never became a geologist, I’ve cherished that rock pick now for almost 45 years – and still use it today.
It is special to me not only for what it is, but where it came from.
Looking back now, I realize it wasn’t Santa who made the call. It was my mom and dad – perhaps mostly dad – who decided it was OK for a 6-year-old to have a 24-ounce steel hammer with a sharp point at the other end.
Playing the role of Santa was one more way my parents made me feel loved and listened to, and I would imagine they enjoyed a little entertainment in the process.
Perhaps that is why my dad saved that Christmas letter to Santa all those years, and why it gave me a warm feeling to read it, as an adult raising three boys of my own.
After all, this was the man who taught me to fish and hunt, and who let me have my first .22 when I was just 12 years old, even if mom wasn’t thrilled.
Browsing through other things dad had preserved in that faded envelope, I found an interesting note that referenced my childhood best friend and neighbor, Clayton Woodward.
“Daddy,” it said, “This is half the money to pay for the letters and numbers on the Harper’s mailbox. Clayton pays the rest.”
I vaguely remember what that was all about, and it wasn’t pretty. But that’s another story for another day.
Merry Christmas to all of you, and remember to hug your parents this holiday season – while you still have them.