By Dick Luedke
‘Twas the night before Christmas. Ricky had celebrated his 8th birthday seven days ago without any presents. Combination birthday/Christmas presents were his family’s preferred method for fulfilling gift obligations to anyone who had the misfortune of being born so close to Christmas. Efficiency was highly valued in his family.
So was organization. Presents were unwrapped on Christmas Eve in chronological order; youngest gift recipient leading off, oldest at the end of the batting order. Ricky would hit third, behind his two younger brothers.
All He Wants for Christmas
When asked what he wanted for Christmas that year, Ricky had shyly, but consistently, requested sports equipment of any kind: baseball, baseball glove, baseball bat, football, football helmet, shoulder pads, basketball, basketball sneakers, ice skates, hockey stick, tennis racquet, etc.
None of the gifts with his name on the label appeared to contain any of those items. They were all in rectangular boxes that were likely to be filled with boring clothing. However, the one from his paternal grandparents offered the youngster a sliver of optimism. It was thin, rectangular shaped, and too small to contain clothing for a slightly larger-than-average-sized eight-year-old.
Ricky dutifully opened the boring gifts first. He had been taught to save the best for last. He meticulously peeled the scotch tape from the wrapping paper concealing his last hope. Carefully pulling the paper away, he unveiled a book jacket, which featured a brightly colored drawing of a high school-aged football player fully extending his muscular arms to make a spectacular catch. Unexplainable joy welled up in Ricky’s heart.
The book was entitled “Touchdown Pass”. It was the first in a series of 24 sports novels written by legendary college basketball coach Clair Bee and written for adolescent boys. Ann and Art, intimately familiar with their grandson’s passion for sports, had hoped the book would spark an interest in reading within the young boy. They would have been ecstatic to know that Ricky instinctively realized this was the greatest gift he had ever received.
Through the first eight years of his life, Ricky had not been a reader. His passion for sports had inspired him to sample his grandfather’s magazines on that subject. But he hadn’t been able to connect with the journalistic stories in those publications. His connection to the fictional Chip Hilton took hold just a few sentences into Mr. Bee’s series-opening story.
He finished “Touchdown Pass” quickly, too quickly. Ricky’s priority became possessing another book in the Chip Hilton series. The interval between his completion of “Touchdown Pass” and his acquisition of “Championship Ball”, the second book in the series, was agonizing. Because neither he nor other members of his family had the means to purchase all, or even several, of the books at once, Ricky knew he had to instill discipline into his reading habits. Fortunately, a high level of discipline had already been infused into this boy. He allowed himself to pick up a Chip Hilton book no more than once every three days and imposed a limit of two chapters per sitting. This self regulation guaranteed that each book would last at least a month.
Family’s First College Graduate
Ricky eventually acquired and read all 24 books in the Chip Hilton series. But that was not all that he read. At first he focused on sports-related fiction. But his horizons expanded. The growth of his appetite for reading improved his performance at school. He became his family’s first college graduate.
His vocational career, which fulfilled him financially and emotionally for decades, was a direct result of his love for the written word, and therefore a direct result of a $2 combination birthday/Christmas gift from Grandma Ann and Grandpa Art.
Perhaps one of the gifts you purchase this Christmas season will have a similarly significant impact on the life of a youngster in your family. I leave you with one piece of advice: Even if that youngster’s birthday is within a couple weeks of Christmas, buy him (or her) a separate birthday present, perhaps a book from Claire Bee’s Chip Hilton series for each occasion.