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BY: GLEN DUDASIK
It wasn’t really anything he’d thought much about. When you have the biggest window on the Main Street square it was seen as festive to do it up right. So every December 1st the hardware store would transform it’s window into the best holiday scene anywhere to be seen from miles around. If you’ve ever walked into the town hardware store you know the types of guys that work there. Most are on their second or third careers and they refuse to half do anything – especially something as important as the town window.
Each of the people there had a hidden talent and they would certainly put their efforts into their work. The carpenters would build, the painters paint, the wall paper masters would cover the plywood and the electricians would make it glow. If you could have heard the planning sessions you’d have blushed at the creative and spirited conversations these men would have. Each man was set out to not only out do the previous years display, but most certainly out do each other. Each and every year would be more grandiose than the year before and each afternoon at 2:35 the parade in front of the window would begin. Thomas was the eldest of the men, and also the largest…and the store owner. His way was law and his answer always ended the friendly, but very serious, arguments.
At 2:35 the first bell would ring from across the street at St. Mary’s and the children would begin their slow walk past the giant window. The men too would gather on the other side of the glass to compare the ooh’s and aahs of the little people, much as if they were comparing grades on their school marks. This year the men had particularly outdone themselves and they built a life size replica of a living room, complete with working fireplace, rocking chair and at the center of the display stood the most magnificent seven foot tall Douglas Fir that was ever found. The fir stood high and glistened with its lights, its ornaments, and its hand carved angel on top. The best part of the tree were all the gifts that were underneath.
The children loved the animated snoring dogs, the self rocking chair, but to one boy – a second grader named James, he would stare at something small under the tree. A baseball and glove. Everyday after the parade had come and gone, James would wander up by himself. Knapsack slung half slung over his shoulder, shoes always untied, glasses half cocked on his face. James was half the size of the other boys and girls and walked with a brace from his ankle to his knee. James was a tough kid, but he wasn’t well, and Thomas knew it.
Thomas knew everyone in town, their families, their grand parents, their farms and their way of life. Being almost 80 years old in a small town you tend to know everyone. Thomas understood the tiny boy better than most, as hard as it was to believe he too was once the smallest kid in the classroom.
Thomas also knew James Mother and his Father. They too were sick, as James grandparents once were. Country living isn’t easy and river millwork is hard, damp and dangerous. Even in the deep winter the river runs violently, as do the logs that come down it. A river man can’t ever stay dry and they all have a cough that eventually does them in. James mother came down with the cough years before. Not from the logging camp up the river, but from the hospital where she worked as a nursemaid. She couldn’t shake the woodsman cough and the spring before this one she never came back home.
It’s common for a town like this to lose people like that, but James Mom was particularly memorable. A kind woman with a gentle touch – she helped Thomas back to health years before. Everyone gave up on Big Tom except James’ Mother. That’s probably why he watched for the boy every day - just to make sure he’s doing alright, well, at least that he’s not doing any worse than he was the day before.
James came by this last day and just stared into the window. He loved baseball, he his Mom and his Dad would listen to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio. Daffy Dean was James favorite player. Every other boy liked Dizzy the best but not James. Daffy was his guy. Anytime Daffy would pitch James and his father would play catch the whole game. His father would be the batter on the radio, and James the great Daffy Dean. Mom was always the umpire and anytime there was a strike out she’d get in this goofy stance and yell “yeeeeerrrrrrr ouuuuuttttt!” at James Father. They would laugh and love the nights away.
At least they used to.
When James mother passed on the boys didn’t play baseball anymore. James father worked the days away and James would mostly tend to himself. The church ladies would come by with supper each and every evening just to be sure that all was right. James would wait up as late as he could for his father to come home. Most nights he'd make it, some nights he'd fall fast asleep. Where a house was once filled with laughter and love, now the nights were quiet – except for James soft crying, and his fathers constant coughing.
It was the December 22nd now, the last day that St. Marys would be open before the holiday break. All the men of the store lined up to watch the kids go by. The children passed by yelling, cheering, and chasing one another. All but the little boy with the brace. He came by later than usual. He stopped in front of the window like normal, but this time after a long pause he came in.
The little boy walked up to the man at the register and asked with all the authority he could muster up, “how much for the baseball under the tree Mr. Sir?” The clerk looked at the little boy and told him that the baseball wasn’t for sale. It was only for the display. Big Tom looked back at the clerk and the disappointed boy and spoke up. "How much do you have?" James slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out a pile of the wettest coins a kid could every snitch out of the churches wishing fountain. James counted them slowly. “One dollar and eighty five cents.” he proudly announced.
Thomas raised an eyebrow at James. “You wouldn’t have happened to steal these coins out of the church prayer fountain now have you?”
“Oh no, Mr. Sir” James said. “Well they did come from the fountain – but I didn’t steal them. Mother Margret Louise got them and gave them to me. She even climbed in just to get the half dollar!” Thomas laughed at the thought of the eldest sister at St. Mary pulling up her skirt just to get the boy his holiday coins. A feat that was no doubt a great risk on her part!
“1.85 you said? Well that’s a very special baseball.” Thomas said to James. All the men of the store stopped in bewilderment. It was a very normal baseball that they found in the back. It was too beat up to be sold and even the store dog didn’t want it. “You have to know that I have reason to believe that baseball was the very baseball that Daffy Dean used to strike out the Mighty Hank Greenberg in the World Series!
James got wide eyed. The men of the store all got wide eyed too. "You really mean that Tom?" Asked one of the guys. Big Tom just laughed and told everyone “That’s what I heard. Tell you what, I will sell this ball to you for sixty five cents.”
“Thank you Mr. Sir, it’s for my Dad. He likes baseball too, it’s his Christmas gift. We don’t have a tree to put it under or anything. We didn’t decorate the house like Mom did. But Dad told me not to worry, that we’d still have a Christmas.”
Thomas knew the men of town and knew that it was a few hours before daylight ended their work for the day. “James” Thomas called out. “I have some work to do in the back. Would you mind helping me in the back check labels on boxes? I need young eyes to see the tiny words. Can you help me with that? I’ll pay you with a bag of penny candy if you don’t mind staying.” James would do anything for a bag of penny candy. Seemed liked a reasonable job and he jumped at the chance.
As James and Thomas walked towards the back, he nodded to the men. “Take down all these decorations and pack them away! Christmas is almost over and I want my window back for the new paints that are coming in his week!” The men of the store jumped into action. Thomas turned to James as they went towards the back room. “Gotta keep on them or they’ll be getting paid for not working!”
Thomas gave James his work, and after a few hours he was all done. His job was to count and re package all the empty soda bottles. He separated them by Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Royal Crown Cola and counted 233 in total. Thomas approved and said the boy was done. Besides his Dad was there and it was time to go. He told the boy he’d earned his candy and he was given nearly half a pound of chewies, mary janes, dots on paper and all the very best candy in the shop. The boy was so excited he almost didn’t notice how much had changed.
James looked around and all the decorations were missing. The lights were taken down. The beautiful tree and all of it’s gifts were gone. All the gifts that was, except one. The baseball glove remained. Thomas handed it to the boy and told James it was now his. Thomas declared to everyone that it was a real Babe Ruth glove used by the Babe himself, and upon further inspection, and much to everyone’s surprise, it really was a Babe Ruth glove used by Babe Ruth himself.
Thomas offered to drive James and his Father home as it was getting late. Some of the men also wanted to get in the truck too, as they had some work to do together on that side of town. There were seven men and a little boy in that truck and when they turned into James house there wasn’t a dry eye amongst them.
For there standing on the porch in all of it’s glory stood the most magnificent Douglas Fir tree anyone had ever found. It’s lights were shining bright and all the toys were piled high underneath it.
James was so excited he ran up to the tree as fast as he could and there hanging from one of it’s branches was a pink envelope with his name on it. James reached high and pulled the card down. On the inside it read these words...
“To my littlest Cardinal - Merry Christmas - Love, Mom”
For us Sunday night meant listening to the AM Dial. Relive your favorite old time stories straight from our collection!
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