John Henry Faulk's Christmas Story

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Sun Dec 24 22:03:21 MST 2000


 [NPR Online]

[Weekend Edition with Liane Hansen]

John Henry Faulk's Christmas Story

December 24, 2000 -- The gifted storyteller and former radio broadcaster
John Henry Faulk recorded his Christmas story in 1974. A treasure in our
archives, this story aired again in 1994, and has since become a holiday
tradition on Weekend Edition Sunday. It will be broadcast on Sunday,
December 24, 2000.

Faulk was born to Methodist parents on August 21, 1913. The fourth of five
children, he attended the University of Texas. For his master's thesis, he
researched ten sermons in African-American churches and gained insight into
the inequity of civil rights for people of color. He later taught English
at the University and served as a medic in the Marines during World War II.
Before the John Henry Faulk Show debut in 1951 on WCBS Radio, Faulk hosted
numerous radio programs in New York and New Jersey. He was blacklisted in
1957, but with support from Edward R. Murrow, won a libel suit against the
corporation that branded him a Communist. Faulk's book, Fear on Trial,
published in 1963, chronicles this experience. Later in his career, Faulk
appeared on Hee-Haw, wrote and produced the one-man plays Deep in the Heart
and Pear Orchard, Texas, and made an unsuccessful bid for a congressional
seat in 1983. In 1990, John Henry Faulk died of cancer in his hometown of
Austin. The downtown branch of the public library there now bears his name.

A Transcript of John Henry Faulk's Christmas Story

The day after Christmas a number of years ago, I was driving down a country
road in Texas. And it was a bitter cold, cold morning. And walking ahead of
me on the gravel road was a little bare-footed boy with non-descript ragged
overalls and a makeshift sleeved sweater tied around his little ears. I
stopped and picked him up. Looked like he was about 12 years old and his
little feet were blue with the cold. He was carrying an orange.
And he got in and had the brightest blue eyes one ever saw. And he turned a
bright smile on my face and says, "I'm-a going down the road about two
miles to my cousins. I want to show him my orange old Santa Claus brought
me." But I wasn't going to mention Christmas to him because I figured he
came from a family -- the kind that don't have Christmas. But he brought it
up himself. He said, "Did old Santa Claus come to see you, Mister?" And I
said, "Yes. We had a real nice Christmas at our house and I hope you had
the same."

He paused for a moment, looked at me. And then with all the sincerity in
the world said, "Mister, we had the wonderfulest Christmas in the United
States down to our place. Lordy, it was the first one we ever had had
there. See, we never do have them out there much. Don't notice when
Christmastime comes. We heared about it, but never did have one 'cause --
well, you know, it's just papa says that old Santa Claus -- papa hoorahs a
lot and said old Santa Claus was scared to bring his reindeer down into our
section of the county because folks down there so hard up that they liable
to catch one of his reindeer and butcher him for meat. But just several
days before Christmas, a lady come out from town and she told all the
families through there, our family, too, that they was -- old Santa Claus
was come in town to leave some things for us and if papa'd go in town, he
could get some Christmastime for all of us. And papa hooked up the mule and
wagon. He went in town. But he told us children, said, "Now don't ya'll get
all worked up and excited because there might not be nothing to this yarn
that lady told."

And--but, shucks, she hadn't got out of sight up the lane there till we was
done a-watching for him to come back. We couldn't get our minds on nothing
else, you know. And mama, she'd come to the door once in a while and say,
"Now ya'll quit that looking up the lane because papa told you there might
not be nothing." And -- but long about the middle of the afternoon, well,
we heared the team a-jangling harness a-coming and we ran out in the front
yard, and Ernie, my little brother, called out and said, "Yonder come
papa." And here come them mules just in a big trot, you know, and papa
standing upright in the bed of that wagon holding two big old chickens, all
the feathers picked off. And he was just yelling, "Merry Christmas. Merry
Christmas." And the team stopped right in front of the gate. And all us
children just went a-swarming out there like a flock of chichis, you know,
and just a-crawling over that wagon and a-looking in.

And, Mister, I wish you could have seen what was in that wagon. It's bags
of stripety candy and apples and oranges and sacks of flour and some real
coffee, you know, and just all tinselly and pretty and we couldn't say
nothing. Just kind of held our breath and looked at it, you know. And papa
standing there just waving them two chickens, a-yelling, "Merry Christmas
to you. Merry Christmas to you," and a-laughing that big old grin on his
face. And mama, she come a-hurrying out with the baby in her arms, you
know. And when she looked in that wagon, she just stopped, and then papa,
he dropped them two chickens and reached and caught the baby out of her
arms, you know, and held him up and said, "Merry Christmas to you, Santa
Claus." And baby, little old Alvie Lee, he just laughed like he knowed it
was Christmas, too, you know. And mama, she started telling us the name of
all of them nuts. They wasn't just peanuts. They was -- she had names for
all of them. She -- mama knows a heap of things like that. She'd seen that
stuff before, you know? And we was, all of us, just a-chattering and
a-going on at the same time, us young'uns, a-looking in there.

And all of a sudden, we heared papa call out, "Merry Christmas to you, Sam
Jackson." And we stopped and looked. And here comes Sam Jackson a-leading
that old cripple-legged mule of his up the lane. And papa said, "Sam
Jackson, did you get in town to get some Christmas this year?" Sam Jackson,
you know, he sharecrops over there across the creek from our place. And he
shook his head and said, "Well, no, sir, Mister. Well, I didn't go in town.
I heared about that, but I didn't know it was for colored folks, too. I
thought it was just for you white families." All of a sudden, none of us
children were saying nothing. Papa, he looked down at mama and mama looked
up at him and they didn't say nothing, like they don't a heap of times, but
they know what the other one's a-thinking. They're like that, you know. And
all of a sudden, papa, he broke out in a big grin again. He said,
"Dad-blame-it, Sam Jackson, it's a sure a good thing you come by here. Lord
have mercy, I liked to forgot. Old Santa Claus would have me in court if he
heared about this. The last thing he asked me if I lived out here near you.
Said he hadn't seen you around and said he wanted me to bring part of this
out here to you and your family, your woman and your children."

Well, sir, Sam Jackson, he broke out in a big grin. Papa says, "I'll tell
you what to do. You get your wife and children and you come down here
tomorrow morning. It's going to be Christmastime all day long. Come early
and stay late." Sam Jackson said, "You reckon?" And mama called out to him
and said, "Yes, and you tell your wife to be sure and bring some pots and
pans because we're going to have a heap of cookin' to do and I ain't sure
I've got enough to take care of all of it." Well, sir, old Sam Jackson, he
started off a-leading that mule up the lane in a full trot, you know, and
he was a-heading home to get the word to his folks and his children, you
know.

And next morning, it just -- you remember how it was yesterday morning,
just rosy red and looked like Christmastime. It was cold, but you didn't
notice the cold, you know, when the sun just come up, just all rosy red.
And us young'uns were all out of bed before daylight seemed like, just
running in the kitchen and smelling and looking. And it was all there sure
enough. And here come Sam Jackson and his team and his wife and his five
young'uns in there. And they's all lookin' over the edge. And we run out
and yelled, "Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas." And papa said, "Christmas
gift to you, Sam Jackson. Ya'll come on in." And they come in and mama and
Sister Jackson, they got in the kitchen and they started a-cooking things
up. And us young'uns started playing Christmastime. And it's a lot of fun,
you know. We'd just play Christmas Gift with one another and run around and
around the house and just roll in the dirt, you know, and then we started
playing Go Up To The Kitchen Door And Smell. And we'd run up and smell
inside that kitchen door where mama and Sister Jackson was a-cooking at,
and then we'd just die laughing and roll in the dirt, you know, and go
chasing around and playing Christmas Gift.

And we played Christmastime till we just wore ourselves out. And papa and
Sam Jackson--they put a table up and put some sheets over it, some boards
up over some sawhorses. And everybody had a place, even the baby. And mama
and Sister Jackson said, "Well, now it's ready to come on in. We're going
to have Christmas dinner." And I sit right next to Willy Jackson, you know,
and he just rolled his eyes at me and I'd roll mine at him. And we'd just
die laughing, you know, and there was an apple and an orange and some
stripety candy at everybody's place. And that was just dessert, see. That
wasn't the real Christmas dinner. Mama and them had done cooked that up.
And they just had it spread up and down the table.

And so papa and Sam Jackson, they'd been sitting on the front porch and
they come in. Papa, he sit at one end of the table, Sam Jackson sit at the
other. And it was just a beautiful table like you never had seen. And I
didn't know nothing could ever look like that and smell that good, you
know. And Sam Jackson, you know, he's real black and he had on that white
clean shirt of his and then them overalls. Everything had been washed and
was real clean. Papa, he said, "Brother Jackson, I believe you're a deacon
in the church. I ain't much of a church man myself, but I believe you're a
deacon. Maybe you'd be willing to give grace." Well, Sam Jackson, he stood
up there and his hands is real big and he kind of held onto the side of the
table, you know. But he didn't bow his head like a heap of folks do when
they're saying the blessing. He just looked up and smiled. And he said,
"Lord, I hope you having as nice a Christmas up there with your angels as
we're having down here because it sure is Christmastime down here. And I
just wanted to say Merry Christmas to you, Lord.

Like I say, Mister, I believe that was the wonderfulest Christmas in the
United States of America."'

Copyright© National Public Radio, 1999, all rights reserved.







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