What a little girl wanted most for Christmas

(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 Christmas-time, 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 said, "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, ŒSanta, 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, and everything turns out all right. +++

--- Past Articles

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