2007-12-28 / On Second Thought

Yes, there is a Santa

The living room is illuminated only by street lights. A tall man stands with a pillowcase in each hand. Before him is a 4- by- 8 foot plywood platform covered with cotton for snow and a figure- eight set of Lionel toy railroad tracks. Lined up on the tracks is an engine, a coal car, freight cars, and a red caboose.

Against the back wall are several feet of painted paper made to look like mountains covering the curve in the tracks.

The platform is dotted with miniature cottages, barns, and stores. Small mirrors serve as ponds in the snowy scene. It's a beautiful village with each building lit from the inside.

On the floor beside the platform is a pair of cowboy boots, fur covered western chaps, a belt with wooden bullets, and a pair of toy metal six- shooters. The stranger doesn't forget the 10 gallon cowboy hat. There are more gifts under the scotch pine Christmas tree than a kid could imagine. Fear not, the man in the shadows isn't a burglar. He's giving an unexpected bonanza to a boy who expects little. As the household sleeps, the man completes his work, then leaves as quietly as he came.

Bob Ford, Christmas 1939 Bob Ford, Christmas 1939 What makes this generous act so special is the year is 1939, the height of the Great Depression. This will prove to be the 10- year- old boy's biggest Christmas - ever!

I was that boy, and my special Santa's identity remained a secret for nearly 50 years. During a visit, my aging father told me the story of the Christmas of '39.

My Santa's real name was Ralph Figel, one of Dad's fraternity brothers. During those dismal days Ralph managed to prosper, but he never forgot to lend a helping hand. Dad said Ralph wanted no recognition for his kindness.

So, to Ralph Figel I now say, "God bless you for a little boy's amazing Christmas." Your secret was kept as long as you lived. Merry Christmas to all!


Return to top