Remembering a bittersweet Christmas

12/18/2007

As I See It
By Billy McCord

I  have had many requests to run this column again. The experience taught me what Christmas is all about.

It was December 1989, and I was assistant superintendent of a large school system in Mississippi. I also had a new Santa suit that my wife had made, and it really looked good. I had played Santa for some Christmas parties in churches and schools and enjoyed doing it. I was invited by the principal of one of the elementary schools to come to her school and be Santa for the children. This school had more children living in poverty than other schools in the district.

Accompanied by an aide, I left my office fully dressed as Santa and had a wonderful time waving to everyone on the way to the school. I made my way inside the school but needed help because the beard I wore blocked a great deal of my vision, and my glasses were not prescription lenses. My vision was limited.

I was perhaps a third of the way through the school when I was confronted by a little boy who was perhaps 6 or 7 years of age. The child tried to smile as I spoke to him, and it was obvious to me that this child was from a home of very limited financial means. The boy looked at me and said in a very polite and sweet voice, “Santa I know you can’t, but I sure do wish I could have a bicycle for Christmas.”

I stood very still and tears filled my eyes, totally blocking what little vision I had. His words cut at my heart as I heard him say, “I know you can’t…” I was certain he had heard those words at home and I fully understood what he had been told. I finally answered him by saying, “I will try my very best.”

I then prayed, “Lord if you will forgive me for letting myself be portrayed as Santa, I will not be back in this situation again.”

I meant every word of that prayer. Santa has a reputation of bringing gifts requested, and I knew that school had a number of children who would not have their wishes granted. My self-esteem was now zero.

Reluctantly, I finished my visit in the school and was on my way back to my office regretting that I had ever agreed to be Santa at school and knowing that I would not do it again.

Five men with whom I enjoyed playing guitars met at my home that night for our weekly session. I could not make myself become interested in playing, and I finally broke down and told my story to them. They suddenly lost their interest in playing. We decided to do something about the bicycle for the boy. All we knew to do was to empty our pockets and see how much money we could get together. Not a one of us held back a dime, and we ended up with over $500. To say the least, I was ecstatic and could hardly wait until morning to do something about the bicycle, or should I say bicycles.

Early the next morning, I made my way to the elementary school and asked the principal to identify the little boy for me by name. She laughed! I immediately told her that I saw nothing funny in the situation. She then relayed to me what had happened when I left her school the day before.

Public school officials in that district are covered almost daily by the press from a large neighboring city which we did not always enjoy. The principal told me that as I made my way through the school as Santa, I had been followed by two members of the press. They had heard what the little boy told me and realized how much it had upset me. My Santa attire had prevented me from seeing the reporters.

As I left the school, they made their way to a large department store and talked to the management. They returned to the school with a commitment for 25 bikes. I could hardly believe what I had heard. And I had over $500 in my pocket!

The principal and I worked out a plan to buy bikes for needy children in her school. I asked only one thing from her, and that was to make sure “my little boy” got that bike that he was sure Santa could not bring him. There were tears of joy in my eyes then as I saw what the love that came down at Christmas could do for everyone. Santa was not such a bad guy after all! It was a Christmas that I shall never forget.

McCord is a retired public school administrator as well as an elder in the United Methodist Church. He serves Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Calhoun County and is a member of the Calhoun County School Board. He may be reached at billymc@tycom.net.