From the Dec. 10, 1993 Just a Thought column by Arthur Railton:
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas nearly 70 years ago, about 5 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. I remember the day and the time because I was on my way home from choir practice which, for us boys, was every Tuesday after school. I was a boy soprano in the all-male choir of Grace Episcopal Church in Lawrence. We were all paid, not much, but paid. It was the only time in my life anybody ever paid me to sing. Grace was a pretty fancy church and very proud of its choir. We had a second practice on Thursday evenings with the men.
Strange how such facts stick in my memory when I can’t remember where I put my gloves last spring! Anyway, choir practice had run later than usual that Tuesday. We were rehearsing for the special Christmas service and Choirmaster Jones (how readily his name comes to mind from my memory!) was a perfectionist.
As always in mid-December in Massachusetts, it was dark at 5 p.m. One of the other boy singers was giving me a ride home on his bike. I was on the crossbar. He got the bike’s front wheel caught in the streetcar track and swerved to get out. As he swerved, my heel caught in the front spokes. Over the handlebars I went, my face hitting the pavement. I still feel tingles in my forehead as I think about it, 70 years later.
When we picked ourselves up, blood was running down my chin and my tongue discovered a gap in my teeth. One of my front teeth was gone. It was dark and cars were driving past, honking at us to get out of the street. Nobody seemed to care, nobody but us, that is. And especially me.
It was a long ride home.
That Christmas I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted my front tooth. But I never got it. Many years later, a hit record came out during the Christmas season. The female singer (was it Stafford?) did a cutesy imitation of a boy soprano lisping, “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” There is nothing cutesy in that song for me.
Maybe he got his front teeth. I never got mine. Never even went went to a dentist. I did get a scolding about the rip in the knee of my pants and about riding on the crossbar of a bike.
Through the years, the gap left by the lost tooth narrowed and fially closed, as nature worked its wonders. Having only one front tooth, I have gone through life doing a lot of explaining to dentists.
That Christmas, 70 years ago, more than any Christmas before or since, I knew what I wanted. But it didn’t matter; I didn’t get it.
Now, when a family member asks, “What do you want for Christmas?” I don’t have a good response. I don’t really want anything that you can buy in a store. Not that I’m one of those men ad writers have in mind with the line, “What to give the man who has everything.” I don’t have everything, but then I don’t want everything. In fact, there are few things that I really want. And so, my family, generous and thoughful as they all are, spends a lot of time trying to find something “just right” for an old man who doesn’t seem to want anything.
But if I wanted something as badly as I wanted that front tooth, I’d tell them, believe me. But I don’t.
All I want for Christmas is to be remembered. Just to have a few boxes, lovingly wrapped, with cards saying something that borders on the smarmy. At Christmas, I can take a bit of smarminess from those I love, because I like to think it’s sincere. So I guess it’s not really smarmy. Whatever it is, I’ll take it, with a lump in my throat.
I’ll be happy to find in those boxes a pair of socks, or a few handkerchiefs (no neckties, please), a flannel shirt or a pair of gloves to replace that pair I so carefully put away last spring and now can’t find. A book would be nice, but when my daughter asks, as she always does, “Would you like a book?” I can never resist responding with that old chestnut: “No, thanks. I have a book.”
When you come right down to it, I have everything I want. Everything, that is, that you can put in a box and wrap up. All I want for Christmas is to be assured that I’m still important to those I love. Not important in the sense of “Who’s Who,” but important in the sense that I still matter, that I’m adding something, that I’m still pleasant to be with, still huggable.
And for that you don’t need a box.
Compiled by Alison Mead