For J.A.T

Christmas, 1985

Copyright 1985 by James C. Turner

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There it sat on the bookshelf looking so thin and plain. On the left was that big book about the great green room. On the right was that thick one about the bear with the balloon and the bees. And both of them had lots and lots of pictures in beautiful colors.

But all this little book had were letters, lots and lots of black letters on plain white pages, not a dab of color anywhere. Who would want to look at that kind of book?

Why, just over there was the one with that cat and Thing Two and Thing One. And next to it was the Grinch with all its bad tricks. What boy wouldn't choose one of those first?

The shelf underneath was just as bad. There was the steam shovel, Mary Anne, and the bunny who ran away. And on the other side was a whole row of books with nothing but pictures of trucks and boats and airplanes -- just the stuff for a little guy.

So that little book sat there day after day, while the young boy looked at all the pictures in the others and his Momma and Daddy read the words that went with them.

Then one rainy night the boy stood in front of the bookshelf and said, "We have read every one except this." And he took the little book over to his Momma's lap.

But when she opened it, was he ever surprised. "Where did we get such a small book with no pictures?" he asked.

"Why," said the boy's Momma, "I don't really know. Maybe somebody snuck into your room and left it when we weren't looking."

"Oh," said the boy, "What good is a book with no pictures?"

His Momma didn't answer, but just started reading.

Now, there is nothing better having a good story read to you, and this little boy was very lucky because there was nothing his Momma liked better than to read his favorite stories as many times as he asked.

But this time when she started reading he just could not sit still, no matter how he tried. He turned this way and he turned that way, but there was nothing for him to look at in that small book with no pictures.

Then he saw it. "Look," cried the little boy pointing to the book, "that is the letter J, right there, just like in my name."

His Momma smiled and said, "That's right, do you know any of the other letters in this book?"

And for a long time the young boy told his Momma the letters he found. He sat on one side of her lap and found the H and the R and even the Z. Then he sat on the other side and found the P and the M and lots of others.

Before long, they had named all the letters the little boy knew, and his Momma started reading the story again. But by now he had forgotten everything that his Momma had read.

So the little boy asked, "Momma, please start over."

His Momma answered, "You are a very lucky boy, indeed, to have a Momma who likes nothing better than to read your favorite stories as many times as you ask."

And then she turned back to the very beginning of that small book with no pictures and read to her little boy until he fell asleep right there on her lap.

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Once there was a little boy named Jimmie, who wanted more than anything else to be BIG. He wanted to be so BIG and so TALL that everyone who saw him would stop and say to themselves, "Gee, what a BIG, TALL boy."

Jimmie told his Momma that he wanted to big. "Momma," Jimmie said, "I wish I was a BIG boy, as big as you are."

His Momma answered, "There will be plenty of time fr you to be a big boy, but for now you are our little boy." And then she picked Jimmie up and put him right up on her shoulders so they could go across the street to look a the great big cow that lived in the field there.

When they got back to the house, Jimmie told his Daddy that he wanted to be tall. "Daddy," Jimmie said, "I will be so TALL, up to the sky, so I will look down on you."

Jimmie's Daddy smiled and looked down at Jimmie and said, "Someday, you probably will, but right now I am the BIG guy." Then they ran around and around the house until Jimmie's Daddy trapped him and tickled him, and they laughed and laughed and laughed.

After he gave his Daddy a big kiss to get away from that trap, Jimmie ran outside and told his dog, Daisy, that he wanted to be grown-up boy. "Daisy," Jimmie said, "When I am a grown-up boy, you won't be able to jump up and knock me down."

Daisy looked at Jimmie for a long time, but she didn't say anything. Then she jumped up on Jimmie's shoulders and they both fell on the grass, where Jimmie giggled for a long time while Daisy licked him right on the face.

When Daisy got tired, Jimmie ran away across the yard after his cat, Cleo. Now Cleo didn't want to get caught, so she ran right up the side of a tree. Jimmie looked up and said, "When I am BIG, Cleo, I will be so strong, I will climb right up that high tree after you when you run away."

But Cleo would not pay any attention to Jimmie at all, because she was busy watching a bird up in the tree. Jimmie stood there and shouted, "Oh, I wish I was BIG and TALL. It makes me sad to be so small."

Just then Jimmie's Daddy came out of the house carrying his baby brother Benjamin. "Jimmie," called his Momma as she came out, "Come get in the car. It's time to go to the store."

Jimmie looked way up in the tree at Cleo and then he looked way up at his Momma and Daddy. Everything was so big that it scared him sometimes.

Then Jimmie heard his Daddy say, "Oh, broccoli and broomsticks, I seem to have dropped our car key down this tiny crack in the sidewalk. What will we do?"

So Jimmie ran over by the car to see what had happened to the key, and what he saw made him laugh so hard that he thought he was going to cry. There was his Daddy all bent over on hands and knees, trying to get his great BIG hand into the tiny little crack in the sidewalk, and sneaking up behind him was Jimmie's other dog, Sam.

Now Sam was still a puppy so he wasn't very big yet, but he was BIG enough to knock Jimmie's Daddy right over and lick his face. And that's just what he did.

"Oh, dustmops and applesauce," his Daddy shouted, "Jimmie, will you call your dog, please."

So Jimmie called, "SAM," really loud, because you don't have to be big to be loud, and Sam came right over, just like he always did when Jimmie called really loud.

"Here, let me try," said Jimmie's Momma, as she gave baby Benjamin to his Daddy. When she got down on her hands and knees, Jimmie giggled and shouted, "Here comes Daisy," and his Momma jumped straight up in the air because she knew that Daisy would lick anybody's face she could reach.

In a little while, Jimmie got tired of watching his Momma jump up and down, so he called, "DAISY," really loud, and sure enough, Daisy came right over, too.

But Jimmie's Momma didn't have any luck trying to get the car key out of that little tiny crack in the sidewalk with her BIG hand either. At last she just sat there and said, "What will we do? Here we are without any chocolates in the whole house, and our car key is in a little tiny crack in the sidewalk and my hand is just too BIG. Oh my, my, my, my, my."

Now, when Jimmie heard the word "chocolates," he knew that he better do something. So he walked right up to that crack in the sidewalk and said, "Here Momma, you hold Daisy and Sam," because he knew better that to get down on his hands and knees around dogs who liked to lick people in the face as much as Daisy and Sam did.

But when Jimmie looked the little tiny crack in the sidewalk he saw that even his hand was too BIG. In fact, when Jimmie looked at that tiny little crack in the sidewalk he saw that even his baby brother Benjamin's hand was too BIG.

"What to do, what to do," thought Jimmie as he looked down at ground and turned slowly around. Then he saw a long stick that was just small enough to fit in the tiny little crack in the sidewalk. As quick as a wink, Jimmie picked up that long stick and, before his Momma or Daddy could say anything, there was the car key sitting on the sidewalk.

Both dogs barked and Jimmie's Momma clapped, while his Daddy threw him way up high in the air over his head and then caught him.

And when they all got into the car, Jimmie turned to his baby brother and said, "See Benjie, that's what a BIG boy can do". And everybody laughed as they headed down the road.

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When Benjamin was just a little baby everyone who looked at him could not help but stop and say right out loud, "Oh my, but what a beautiful baby, such blue eyes, and his hair, so blond."

Now the truth was that Ben didn't have much hair at all on top (just like his Daddy didn't), so what people were really seeing was only his little bald head. But that didn't stop them for one little minute. People would bend over him and say it over and over, "Oh my, but what a beautiful baby, such blue eyes, and his hair, so blond."

Most of the time Benjie didn't bother to correct those grown-ups. After all there were much more important things to do, like trying to put all of his fingers into his mouth at once.

But now and then it became just too much to listen to and Benjie shouted right out loud, "Blond hair. What blond hair. I don't have any hair at all. Can't you see?"

And every time he said that, the grown- ups would get all excited and shout, "Oh, listen. Benjamin said, 'goo.' He is so cute with those blue eyes and that blond hair."

So Ben would just say, "Oh, well," and put his hand back in his mouth.

One day Benjie's Momma brought a special treat home with her from the store next to the great big office where she worked. It was a toy brown bear with a mirror in its tummy.

Benjamin thought it was wonderful and as soon as his big brother helped him unwrap it, Benjamin put that brown bear's head right in his mouth. Then after a while he remembered his manners and took it out of his mouth long enough to say, "Thank you all so very much, what a lovely token."

His Momma said, "Oh Ben, you just gurgle away with such a pretty smile," and his big brother said, "Can I see that bear?"

After Benjie's big brother showed him the brown bear for a while, it was time to fix dinner. So he and Benjie's Momma went into the kitchen to mix things and pour them into pans.

They hadn't been out of room for even one minute before that bear looked up and said, "So Benjamin, what do you have to say today?"

Ben answered, "Oh, not much," and put the brown bear's head back into his mouth.

"Ack, Ack, Ack," cried the brown bear, "What are you doing, Benjie? I don't need a bath."

"Bath?" said Benjamin, taking the bear's head out of his mouth for a minute "Who said anything about a bath?"

Just then Ben's Momma hurried through the room looking for paper towels to clean up the spill in the kitchen. When she came back through with the towels she smiled at Ben with his brown bear and said, "Well it looks like you have certainly found yourself a friend to gurgle at."

Benjie looked up and when he looked back down he saw that the brown bear had a baby in his tummy. "How could you eat that beautiful baby with those blue eyes?" he asked the bear.

"Me eat a baby," exclaimed the bear, "Why Benjamin how could you think such a thing. That beautiful baby with those blue eyes is you, and if you look very close you may see that you do have some blond hair."

Sure enough when Ben looked closely at the bear's tummy he could see that the baby in there did have some blond hairs, very fine blond hairs that pointed straight up from his head like the feathers on a red cardinal's head. "Well, maybe I won't be bald-headed forever," Ben answered.

Then his Momma walked back in and asked, "Isn't it about time for a bath?"

And when Benjie put the brown bear's head back in his mouth that time, his Momma picked them both up and carried them to the bathroom where they had.lots of fun playing in the tub with Benjie's big brother until it was bedtime.

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The grass was so long and dry that Sam would never have seen an ordinary ball. But this ball was anything but ordinary. It was so red that the puppy would have seen it with his back turned, and since he was almost standing on top of that ball, Sam could not have missed it if he had tried.

When Sam saw the red ball, it did not take even one second for him to snap it up into his mouth and start running up the hill to the woods. Sam was so excited that he ran right through a big patch of sticker bushes without even slowing down. Luckily, his fur was so thick that none of the stickers got through to hurt him.

Holding the ball tight in his mouth Sam ran out of the woods and across the grass. When he came to the big road Sam looked to the left and then to the right, because he wasn't a stupid dog and knew that everyone had to look to the left and then to the right before crossing that big road with all those cars going by so fast.

Once he crossed the road, Sam was at the house where he lived with his mother, Daisy, his little boy, and some big people. Now, the closer Sam came to his house, the more he worried about his new red ball. After all, it was his ball and he just did not know what those big people might do with it. In fact, Sam worried about his new ball so much that he stopped right in the middle of the.yard and lay down on the grass to think about what was the best thing to do.

That ball was first thing that Sam had ever owned. Every other toy he had to play with really belonged to his little boy. That is why the red ball was so special. He could play with it as much as he wanted and nobody could take it away.

As he thought, Sam chewed on his new ball, first in the left side of his mouth and then in the right side. It was when Sam moved his ball back to the left side for the third time that he decided. There was only one way for his ball to be safe from those big people and now Sam knew what it was.

Carefully putting his new ball to one side, Sam started to dig a hole in the grass, but the roots from the grass and weeds were just too thick to get anywhere. All he managed to do was to tear the grass off the dirt and make an empty spot in the lawn. The longer he tried, the wider that spot became, but it never went down into the ground, only out across the top of the dirt. At last Sam was too tired to dig any more, so he walked back to his ball and settled down for another good chew.

As he chewed Sam worried more and more about keeping his new ball safe from those big people. Then, just as he stared to chew with the left side of his mouth for the second time, Sam remembered that place without any grass -- it was just what he needed.

It didn't take the puppy long to get started either. Sam carried his ball across the lawn and jumped over the little fence that went around that place without any grass. Then he began to dig.

This time the dirt flew straight up in the air and the hole went straight down in the ground. Before long Sam had a very deep hole there in the place without any grass. After dropping his ball in that deep hole Sam covered it up by pushing all the dirt back in.

By now, all that running and digging had made Sam one tired puppy, so he jumped back over the little fence that went around the place without any grass and walked over to the spot underneath a big tree where his mother, Daisy, was taking a little nap. Sam was so tired that he scarcely had time to lie down before he was fast asleep.

It was nearly morning when a big clap of thunder woke Sam and made him jump up into the air. What a fright. The thunder was so loud that Sam was shaking all over. It looked to Sam like it had rained all night long. Without that big tree, Sam would have been soaked. As it was, Sam felt pretty wet and crawled over to lie as close as he could to Daisy.

When the sun came up, it finally stopped raining so Sam and Daisy could come out from under the big tree to get some breakfast. There is nothing quite as good as breakfast on the morning after a cold, wet night, and Sam felt so fine after eating that he wanted to play with his new ball.

Off he ran across the yard to jump over the little fence that goes around the place without any grass. Sam turned around once. He turned around twice. He even turned around a third time before he sat down. Sam really had a problem. All that rain had made every place inside the little fence look just like every other place, so Sam didn't know where to dig for his ball.

Sam dug in one corner of that place without any grass and then in another. He dug along the little fence that goes around the place without any grass and he dug right in the middle, but he just could not find his new ball. Poor Sam was very sad and just sat there wondering how he would ever find his beautiful red ball.

Just then Sam's little boy and one of the big people came out of the house and headed over toward the place without any grass. As they came closer, the big one stopped and said, "Well Sam, what have you done to our flower bed? It looks like you have already finished our digging for us. You better stay out of there after we get these seeds planted."

Sam jumped over the little fence and watched while his little boy started digging in the place without any grass. After a while, Sam's little boy stopped digging and shouted, "Hey look, I found a ball right here in the dirt."

When Sam saw his red ball he started barking and wagging his tail just as hard as he could. He was so happy, he never thought he would see that beautiful red ball again.

When Sam's little boy heard all that barking, he pulled the red ball out of the dirt and called, "Hey Sam, come on, let's play."

Then he threw the red ball out onto the grass and Sam went running after it and picked it up with his mouth. Sam ran back with his red ball until he was close enough to throw it to his little boy. But puppies can't throw balls very well so it landed at the little boy's feet.

Sam had never thought of playing catch with his ball and it made him so happy that had barked and wagged his tail while his little boy threw his ball again and again. And then, when his little boy ran back to the house, Sam carried his own ball back under the big tree, where he fell asleep hugging.it between his two paws.

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Every Christmas Eve Ms. Claus carefully packed a little lunch for Santa to eat when he was half done delivering packages to all the good little girls and boys. Some years she packed grilled cheese sandwiches and a thermos of hot tomato soup. Other years she packed fresh cornbread muffins and a pot of hot baked beans.

Those lunches were one of Santa's favorite things about Christmas Eve. A big guy could certainly work up quite an appetite lugging that heavy bag of toys up all those steep roofs, and without those lunches Santa sometimes thought he would never be able to deliver all the toys he should.

This year Ms. Claus really outdid herself. Not only were there delicious turkey sandwiches and potato chips, but she had even made a thermos of hot cocoa and put a big piece of cherry pie in Santa's lunch to help him keep his strength up. And, just to make it all the prettier, Ms. Claus wrapped Santa's lunch box in red and green paper and put a big white bow on the top.

In the wintertime it is dark all day long at the North Pole where the Santa and Ms. Claus live with their helpers, so no one can really blame Ms. Claus for her mistake. It was so dark that afternoon that she couldn't see very well at all. So instead of tucking Santa's lunch into the big duffel bag in the front of his sleigh, where he kept the emergency flares and spare reindeer feed, Ms. Claus put Santa's lunch into the big bag full of toys that was already in the back of the sleigh.

Later that night when Santa came out of the barn with his reindeer, he didn't notice that anything was wrong and after hitching them to his sleigh he gave Ms. Claus a big hug and said, "It certainly is a cold one tonight, my dear. I can hardly wait to be half way done with these deliveries so I can have my lunch."

Ms. Claus patted Santa's great fat belly and laughed before she answered. "Get on you old pooh. You have enough extra tummy to get you around the world three times without even a stop for a cookie. Why if I wasn't such a pushover, you would be on a diet right now. Now hurry up and get on your way before your nose turns into an icicle, and cover up those ears, you'll catch your death of an earache if you're not careful."

The old saint smiled and pulled his long red hat tight over his ears and pushed his cold toes further into the great black boots he always wore on Christmas Eve. Then he leapt into the front of the sleigh pushing the big duffel bag to one side, as he called out to the reindeer, "Here we go, boys, one cold old geezer, one bag of packages for you know who, and one duffel of lunches for you and me."

Hearing that, the reindeer could wait no longer and, although the Santa's sleigh was very full because more little boys and girls had been especially good this year than ever before, by the time Ms. Claus raised her hand to wave they were already turning left at the North Pole. And by the time Santa had raised his hand to wave back, they were already out of sight.

What a cold night it was. Sometimes it seemed to Santa as if he had not eaten a single thing for two weeks. Up one roof and down the chimney. Up the next and down again. So much to do and not a second to spare if all the good children were to get their packages.

It was a little after midnight when Santa finally stopped his sleigh in a large field and pulled out his duffel. "Well boys," he called to his reindeer, "Time for a wee spot of something to tide us over."

By this time the reindeer were extremely hungry and they crowded close around Santa as he opened his duffel and pulled out a small bag of feed for each of his team. But when the last reindeer had his feed bag on, Santa found that his duffel was empty.

"How can this be?" cried the hungry old elf, "Ms. Claus must have been serious with all that diet talk. We'll see about that."

The reindeer barely had time to hurry through the rest of their snack before Santa was back in the sleigh. Off they flew, but not toward the houses where little girls and boys were sleeping. Santa knew what he wanted and in a flash his sleigh had settled onto the roof of small red shop with a large neon sign reading, "We Make the World's Greatest Pizza."

For a round fellow, Santa could move quite quickly when he had a mind to, and he was down the chimney of that small red shop before his reindeer even realized that they had landed. And he was back into the sleigh just as fast muttering, "Of all things, closed on a beautiful night like this. What does that pizza man think - people don't get hungry after dark?"

With that, Santa turned his team of reindeer and off they flew over the houses where the little boys and girls were dreaming of all the toys Santa had packed in the great bag in the back of his sleigh. This time Santa turned his sleigh in where the sign read, "Home of the Best Hot Dog You Ever Ate."

The reindeer didn't wait long on that roof either, before Santa climbed back into the sleigh grumbling, "Home for the holiday. Well, boys, it looks as if I'm just going to be a hungry delivery man tonight. I suppose we better get on with it."

And so they flew on from one rooftop to the next. But at each house it seemed to the reindeer, who after all, knew Santa better than most people do, that the round old guy moved a little slower than he had at the last one. Worse than that, Santa had started complaining, something he never did.

One time he climbed back into the sleigh, his deer heard him say, "Those elves, they didn't get properly organized this year. Why I can hardly find which presents are for which girls and boys in my bag. You would think that someone had put an extra package or two in there."

Another time Santa actually shouted, "Clutter, Clutter, Clutter. Somebody has been cluttering up my bag of packages. It's bad enough that I am starving to death, but all this clutter is enough to try the patience of a saint."

In fact, all of the reindeer were very worried about Santa when the sleigh landed on the roof of the small gray house with the tall pine tree covered with blinking Christmas lights in its front yard.

"I'm afraid this may be the last house I can manage, boys," said Santa as he headed for the chimney, "Carrying extra packages on an empty stomach just isn't in my job description."

The old fellow drooped as he stepped from the fireplace and turned to fill the stockings of the two little boys who lived in that small gray house. Santa moved slowly to the tree with his bag of presents and carefully laid out the other packages he had for this house.

As Santa turned around to face the fireplace again, he spoke in a voice almost too soft to be heard, "Well, it never happened to me before in all the hundreds of years, but I'm afraid that some of these presents just are not going to be delivered this year. What a shame for the little boys s and girls have been especially good.

Santa's step was even slower as he walked back to the fireplace and his great bag of presents was dragging on the floor. But then, just as he was bending down to climb back up the chimney, something on the fireplace mantle caught Santa's eye.

"Why it seems that someone forgot to eat their dinner tonight," Santa said, Look at this plate. There are sandwiches and chips, and well look over here, even a glass of beer with a ribbon and a little envelope.

When Santa opened the little envelope, his shoulders rose and his back straightened, for this is what the note inside said: "For Santa, from J & B, Merry Christmas."

All the reindeer knew Santa was feeling better when he came back up the chimney of the little gray house and leapt into sled crying, "Shake a leg, boys, we haven't got all night you know."

Off they flew from rooftop to rooftop, and before the first pink of the morning sun touched the sky, the sleigh turned right at the North Pole and settled lightly to the ground where Ms. Claus was waiting.

"A little early this year, aren't you?" she asked Santa.

"It must be this new diet I seem to be on," Santa answered with a chuckle. "Actually, I had to come back to ask the elves where this last package should be delivered."

"Why you old pooh," Ms. Claus shouted, "I can't believe that you are going to give away your own lunch this year."

Santa's cheeks turned as red as the end of his nose when he heard that, but it was only a second before he laughed and said, "I suppose you're right. Anyway, I could use a little snack right now to keep my strength

So while the elves led Santa's reindeer back to their barn, he gave Ms. Claus a big hug and gave a deep laugh that echoed quietly, "It is the best Christmas ever, Ho, Ho, Ho."

And far away in a small gray house, a little boy's eyes opened wide when he saw the empty plate on the mantle where two stockings were so full they almost touched the floor.

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