Leader Blues

Saturday, December 22, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>What little girl wanted for holiday

(This is a reprint of a previous Christmas column.)

When my friend Jack Sallee was with the Jaycees in Fayetteville, they’d put an ad in the paper at Christmastime, saying that for $2 you could have Santa come to your place.

There’d be a group of Santas going out every night, and Sallee was among them.

“Each Santa went to about 10 homes a night,” Sallee says. “Each Santa had a driver. Mine was named Larry Nixon. He was a big fellow, and I would tell the kids Larry was driving me around town.”

Usually nothing out of the ordinary happened. Kids got to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas, and Santa gave them lots of candy, and everybody went to bed happy.

But then something different did happen. Sallee says, “One night we had two houses left to go. We drove around for a while, and when we found one, it was a one-room house. We went inside, and the house had a dirt floor and hardly any furnishings.”

A young girl was there with her mother. They were as poor as they could be: They had nothing — or very little.

The two Jaycees, college educated and professionals who’d seen dozens of nice homes, couldn’t believe what they had walked into.

“There were two cots to sleep on, and a table and a chair,” Sallee says. “The house had a pot-bellied stove. She had one of those small Styrofoam ice chests. So needless to say, I was taken aback because I didn’t think people still lived like that. This was inside the Fayetteville city limits.”

“The girl was seven or eight years old,” Sallee continues, “and she had long hair and blue eyes. She wore a nightgown that looked like a man’s T-shirt her mother had cut off. She was flabbergasted that Santa Claus would actually visit her.”

He says, “For a Christmas tree, her mother had brought in a branch and put it on the table.”

Her mother had found her a present — a ball wrapped in tissue paper.

Sallee wondered what else this poor girl would ask for.

“In the homes we had seen,” he continues, “the children would tell us what they wanted by reciting the toy sections in stores they’d been to.”

But that wasn’t what the girl wanted.

“The girl sat on my lap and looked at me seriously,” Sallee recalls. “She said, ‘Santa, the only thing I want is for Daddy to come home.’”

“I looked at my driver, this big, burly guy, and he had to walk outside because tears were streaming down his face,” Sallee says.

“The mother turned her back to us, and I just turned my head away from her,” he adds. “I was just stunned and moved and speechless. I wanted to hold the little girl and tell her everything was going to be all right, but there was nothing you could do. You felt helpless. She never asked for a toy or clothes.”

“I said there are some things Santa Claus can’t do,” Sallee adds, “but Santa Claus would try. I gave her all the candy I had.”
“It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” he says. “It will haunt you for the rest of your life.”

Sallee remembers that little girl around this time of the year. He wonders what happened to her father.

Maybe this Christmas he will be home, and, who knows, they’ll have a nice home to live in. You can’t lose hope.