December 25, 2008

Great Christmas for a little boy

  The living room is illuminated only by street lights from outside. A tall man stands with a pillowcase in each hand. Before him is a 4-by-8 foot plywood platform covered with cotton snow and a figure-eight set of Lionel toy railroad tracks. There's an engine, a coal car, four freight cars and a red caboose.

  Against the back wall covering the curve in the tracks is mountain paper that looks like real mountains under which toy trains run. The platform is dotted with miniature cottages, barns, and stores. It's a beautiful village with each building lighted from inside.

  On the floor beside the platform is a pair of cowboy boots, western chaps, a belt with silver wooden bullets, and a pair of toy metal six-shooters.

  There's even a 10 gallon hat. There are enough goodies under the scotch pine Christmas tree to turn a 10-year-old boy into a genuine cow hand.

  Fear not, the tall man in the shadows isn't stealing a boy's Christmas. He's giving the boy an unexpected bonanza. While the household sleeps, the tall man sets up the huge surprise, then leaves as quietly as he came.

  What makes this act of generosity so special is that the year is 1939, the height of the Great Depression. This will prove to be the 10-year-old's biggest Christmas — ever! I was that boy, but my benefactor remained a secret for nearly 50 years. While I was visiting my aging father in Philadelphia, he told me the story about that Christmas Eve.

  My Santa's real name was Ralph Figel, one of my Dad's fraternity brothers. During those dismal days Mr. Figel managed to prosper, but he never forgot to lend a helping hand to his friends. Dad said he neither wanted nor expected credit for his benevolent deeds.

  So, to Ralph Figel I say, "Thank you so much and God bless you for a little boy's amazing Christmas."

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