“It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own.”
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“You must excuse me, I’m not young enough anymore to know it all.”
In this post I would like to share a couple of letters I wrote to the Tulsa World in response to separate requests from the World that readers tell about their favorite childhood books and how they learned the truth about Santa Claus.
Since both of the letters I wrote and submitted are based on experiences that took place during my childhood in my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas, they reveal something about both my nature and my nurture–the interior and exterior influences that formed and shaped my life then and forever after.
My Favorite Childhood Books
September 26, 2009
Letters to the Editor
P.O. Box 1770
Tulsa, OK 74102
Re: Favorite Childhood Books
As a child growing up in rural Southeast Arkansas during the 1940s, I was influenced by three books—all of them gifts.
The first was a colorful illustrated version of The Night Before Christmas, which was brought to me by Santa Claus and which created within me a sense of awe and mystery.
The second, simply titled Battleships, was sent to me by an older cousin [Troy Gibson] who was serving in the U.S. Navy as a sailor during World War Two. It created in me a lifelong interest in military history.
The third book was a Rand McNally Junior Elf book written by Dorothea Johnston Snow titled No-Good, the Dancing Donkey. It was given to me in about 1944-45 by my second-grade teacher, “Miz Inez” Haisty. It told the story of a poor farmer’s donkey who preferred to dance rather than to do chores.
Since I was not enthusiastic about learning my father’s trade as a livestock dealer, preferring to read, my mother often said of me, “I never had any trouble out of Jimmy. He was always off in a corner with his nose in a book.” I still am. Like No-good, the dancing donkey, instead of being an agricultural worker I used my talent and interest to become a professional, though not a dancer but a writer and editor.
The Truth about Santa Claus
November 23, 2001
The Truth about Santa Claus
c/o Leigh Woosley
P.O. Box 1770
Tulsa, OK 74102
Dear Ms. Woosley:
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
—St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV
“Toyland! Toyland! Dear little girl and boy land! While you dwell within it, you are ever happy then. Childhood’s joy land, mystic, merry Toyland! Once you pass its border, you can never return again.”
—Babes in Toyland
“Education is man’s progress from cocksure arrogance to thoughtful uncertainty.”
In response to your invitation to your readers to share their stories of learning the truth about the existence of Santa Claus, I am passing along my story on this subject. Feel free to edit it as you think necessary (I will understand; that’s how I make my living):
I was born sixty-three years ago today (November 23, 1938) in the front bedroom of a converted Southern-style dog-trot house (still without benefit of running water or electricity) in the little sawmill-farming community of Selma, Arkansas, down in the deep southeast corner of that state.
As the grandson of a country Southern Baptist preacher, to me his daughter, my saintly mother, represented “God with a face of flesh.” Since Mama had always allowed me to believe in Santa Claus, I was absolutely sure that he, like God, not only existed but also visited and blessed me regularly.
Thus, at about age eight, when some of my childhood friends began to doubt and even protest the reality of Santa, naturally I became a champion of the Blessed Saint. In my capacity as self-appointed Defender of the Faith, I was quick to “take on all comers” and “do battle with the infidels.” Thoroughly convinced of the rightness (and righteousness) of my cause, on Christmas morning of that year, I decided to go to the Source and get the Authoritative Word to use to silence the blasphemous gainsayers once and for all.
So leaving my Christmas goodies under the tree, I went into my mother’s bedroom, where she was lying in the same bed in which she had given me birth eight years earlier. There I asked the fateful question, to which I was sure I knew the faithful answer: “Mama, is there really a Santa Claus?”
Her response was also couched in the form of a question, a quite significant question that actually became the Voice of God to me ever after: “Do you really want to know?”
My confident response was a simple “Yes’m.”
Her answer was just as simple, and just as brief: “No.”
My final response? “Aw.”
End of conversation. End of fantasy. Beginning of lifelong search for truth.*
*That question and its answer was a sort of rite of passage, one of three that took place in that very spot in my mother’s bedroom: The first, my birth, was my passage from the security of the womb to the insecurity of the real world. The second, this event, marked the beginning of my passage from childish “arrogance” to more mature “thoughtful uncertainty.” The third rite of passage occurred some two years later when my parents announced to me on that same spot that we were leaving Selma to move to town.
Thus began an ongoing journey that ended my simple, idyllic Tom Sawyer-like fantasy world and forced me to enter a new and unknown, frightening and unsettling, ever-widening and bewildering world among strangers in a variety of places I never wanted to go because I just wanted to stay in my secure environment where everything was settled with absolute finality.
So now I know; but now I can’t go–back home again.