Members of our family have given gifts of Christmas stories over the years. I thought you might enjoy mine from last year. Merry Christmas!
Grandpa was getting old, so if you wanted to avoid taking a nap and you wanted to do things you weren’t supposed to do with him, it often meant that you needed to sit still and not squirm too much for long periods. He told stories a lot and sometimes he seemed to forget what he was talking about and you needed to help him stay on track. That is some of what the boy knew. He liked grandpa and liked his stories too.
One day before Christmas the boy and Grandpa were sitting by the sparkling tree in his house. Grandma was gone somewhere, so grandpa had just finished blowing some smoke rings with the cigar he had been smoking in the house, which the boy knew grandma forbid him to do.
The boy looked at the tree and said, “I wonder what is in my present. I can’t wait to find out.”
Grandpa said, “What did you pray for?”
The boy looked at him. He finally said, “Why would I pray for a present? I don’t think my dad even thinks I am supposed to do that. I’m not supposed to pray for selfish things.”
“Nonsense,” Grandpa said. “Your father doesn’t know everything.” The boy began to squirm a little and looked at the back door to see if Grandma was listening. But she was still gone. “You should pray about everything, whether you know what you are doing or not. The best prayers are probably the ones that seem the stupidest, since God knows you’re stupid.”
The boy looked at Grandpa to see if he was smiling. He was. But he also looked like he was thinking. He couldn’t decide if he needed to be insulted about being called stupid.
“I know about a boy who prayed for a Fort Apache set one Christmas.” Grandpa continued.
“What is a Fort Apache set?’ the boy asked.
“Well it was a long time ago that this happened. Maybe little boys have stopped praying since that time. But a long time ago Fort Apache sets were quite popular. So he prayed for it.”
“Why? What is it?” The boy sensed a story coming on.
“A long time ago, little boys, such as yourself, liked to replay the genocidal war between the United States government and the Native Americans.”
The boy had long been accustomed to not stopping a story to figure out what something like genocidal was all about. Grandpa didn’t talk down to kids, but he didn’t care too much about being understood, either.
“Fort Apache was a fort in Arizona. You know what a fort is, right? It is a fortified camp where soldiers put up a big fence to keep out the people who scare them. They put all their guns and equipment in their fort so nobody can get it. Fort Apache was in the Apache Indian territory. You know about Apaches I hope. I suppose that your school is teaching you about leprechauns or something instead of Apaches.” And Grandpa turned toward him.
It was true. He had heard about leprechauns and had no idea about Apaches.
“I thought as much. In the 1870s, that’s about three grandpas ago, the Apache Indians were the tough Indians in Arizona. Ever heard someone say, ‘Geronimo!’? Geronimo was a Chiricahua Apache Indian and he was a tough leader. If anyone ever attacks this house, you might have to be like Geronimo.”
The boy just looked at Grandpa chewing on the end of his put-out cigar, staring into space. He knew that he could not tell his mother that someone was going to attack the house.
“Well, a long time ago when this little boy prayed for a Fort Apache set, playing out the war between the United States and the Apaches was pretty popular. You could get this toy set in a big box. The set had a fort you could put together. There were little soldiers that were blue and little Indians that were brown. Sometimes your dog got a hold of them and chewed their heads off so you had to be careful. You could set up the thing in your back yard and it would be just like Arizona. You could build mountains out of rocks for the Indians to hide in. The soldiers could attack from their fort. Boys made up rules about how the game of war could be played and they got in fights over that. It was a lot of fun.”
“So you knew a boy who had this toy?”
“You better believe I knew him. Getting that toy was a very big deal to this kid when he was just about your age.”
“Why would a toy be such a big deal? I have lots of toys.”
“Well this kid hardly had any toys. He used to make toys out of old socks. One time he stole a sock out of his dad’s sock drawer to make a toy and he got caught. His dad gave him a spanking right on his butt.”
“My Dad never spanks me.“
“Well don’t steal his socks.”
“What toy could someone make with a sock?” He knew he was delaying the story and it needed to get done before grandma got back, but he just couldn’t figure it out.
“There are a lot of things you can make with a sock. If you only have one stuffed bear and you need two for a game, a sock stuffed with newspaper or your sister’s pajama top can be turned into something. But mostly this boy filled socks with dirt and hit people with them. You probably won’t want to do that.”
The boy looked at Grandpa to see if he was smiling. He was chewing.
“Yes, that Fort Apache set was a good toy. The boy saw it in some advertisement that his mother wished he hadn’t seen, since mostly she just had money for beans and not for expensive toys. “
“All they ever ate was beans. And I don’t mean green beans. I mean those pasty beans that look like your kidney — a big pot of them simmering on the stove, filling up the house with a nasty smell unless there was bacon in them. But bacon was expensive. I am going to get grandma to make you a pot of beans and see if you like them. No one eats beans these days, so they are like a delicacy.”
He didn’t know what a delicacy or a genocidal was, but the words were certainly going into a sentence, later in the day.
“I ‘m telling you that this boy saw that advertisement and he just could not get the Fort Apache set out of his mind. He told his mother that he wanted Santa Claus to bring it to him. He asked her to write a letter to Santa for him so it would happen. She told him that she wasn’t sure Santa would bring such a big present, since it was hard to get it down the chimney. The boy said that Jonny had an entire bike in his living room just last Christmas. She said, “We’ll see.” But the boy got the idea that his mom might not get this letter written. So he took the advice of his Sunday School teacher and he prayed about it.
Now, I have to tell you, the boy’s parents did not pray like your parents. When this boy’s family sat down to dinner no one paused to give God thanks, they just went after the food like it was going to get away from them if they didn’t grab it. Even the beans went fast. So the kid got the idea that he had better pray in secret. After his mom tucked him in, he got under his covers, as if someone couldn’t hear him if he was under his covers when he prayed. He didn’t know much about God at that point, so he just said it, “God, I want a Fort Apache set for Christmas.” And he kind of paused a minute to listen in case God said, “OK’ I’ll have it delivered.” God never said that, but every night he got under the covers and prayed that same prayer, even on Christmas Eve. He didn’t tell anyone he was talking to God because he got the idea that they might think he was a nut or something.
What do you think happened?”
The boy was not sure if that was a real question. He wanted to know the real answer. But there was a lot of confusing information floating around about bikes and Santa and parents and Indians and beans. So he just waited.
“He got up on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought. His parents always made him line up in size place with his two older brothers first and his sister behind him and they went into the living room while dad took their picture with a big movie camera. You’ve never seen a movie camera like that one. This is the old days before they had little cameras like your dad uses. This was a big old thing with big lights that got hot to the touch when you turned them on, so little guys like you had to make sure not to sit on them or they would burn their tush.
So he finally got into the living room on Christmas morning and went over to the chair that was designated for all his loot. Loot is what barbarians get when they sack your city, and it is the perfect application for what kids around here get trained to do during Christmas. Among his loot was…you guessed it: a Fort Apache set.
He got down on his knees in front it. Santa had set the whole thing up. He just looked at it for a while. He was truly amazed. He finally said, ‘Thank you, God.’ Then his parents were amazed.”
“So God gave him the Fort Apache set?” the boy practically shouted.
“Hey, that’s for you to decide. But get this. Later in the morning, his rich aunt got to the house with all his cousins to have the Christmas morning party they always had. She brought him a big present all wrapped up in paper and stuff. When it got to his turn to open up his present from his aunt and uncle, it was another Fort Apache set. After that, it was impossible to convince him that anything you prayed for wasn’t likely to happen. He ended up as a very good Christian, I’d say. That day basically got him going God’s direction. I suppose you will end up as some kind of Geronimo Christian yourself.”
Just then Grandma came in the back door. They went silent and turned to reverently watch her as she bustled through the kitchen and finally came into the living room bearing the candy they suspected she would have.
“Grandma, did you ever hear about the boy who got the Fort Apache set?” the boy asked.
“Oh yes. I know that boy very well,” she said. And she left to go put Grandpa’s spent cigar in the trash.