To celebrate Christmas, I am sharing my Christmas Day columns, a tradition that started in 1996. Here is the 2007 version:
A Christmas story, mid-1990s: The little boy got in trouble. He doesn’t even remember what he did, when he was 8 or 9. But he must have been bad. Must have been real bad.
As punishment, his mom told him there would be no Christmas for him. Of course, kids have heard that line before.
Each day, the boy would check out the Christmas tree. But no presents were for him.
Christmas came, and that morning, the tree still bore no fruit. No presents for the boy in trouble.
The day dragged on. The sun set. The little boy gave up. He accepted the fate of nothing for Christmas.
Then suddenly, presents appeared. The boy got a reprieve. His mom had been bluffing, but she delivered a well-learned lesson.
He doesn’t even remember what he got that Christmas. Maybe Ninja turtle stuff, maybe not. But he remembers the Christmas he had to wait. Patience eventually would come in handy, as a tight end who doesn’t always get passes thrown his way, for Brandon Pettigrew.
A Christmas story, 1940s: John’s dad died of kidney failure when he was 5. John was the youngest of four kids; his older brother picked up the back-breaking duties of the family’s coal-loading business in Pittsburgh.
Sometimes on Christmas, they would descend the stairs and find nothing under the tree. But sometimes, an uncle, a Catholic priest from Ohio, would arrive with gifts.
Their mom was a hard worker and a good provider, but not much of a cook. So the kids always looked forward to Christmas Eve, which in Lithuanian homes was the day of Kucios, in which the family would congregate for seven-or even 10-fish suppers.
But to receive gifts on Kucios, the kids had to perform. John, who later would absolutely prove he didn’t have much of a voice, sang “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”
Years later, “strong to the finich” on NFL gridirons would be Johnny Unitas.
A Christmas story, 1980: The sportscaster had to work Christmas Eve, the slowest sports day of the year. Working Christmas Eve night can be more depressing than working Christmas Day, so the sportscaster hatched an idea.
If he had to work, he would take his family to the studio. In fact, he decided to take his 18-month-old son onto the set. Decided even to do the sportscast with baby Michael on his lap.
What was it that someone once said about the best laid plans? During the sportscast, Michael grabbed his dad’s scripts and started flinging them.
The sportscast had become a fiasco. Good thing there was nothing much to report anyway. And good thing voters didn’t hold that night against the sportscaster, else the mayor’s office might never have been filled by Mick Cornett.
A Christmas story, 1920: He took his wife to Cuba in late October, as part of a business trip. Havana had become the happening place with the advent of U.S. Prohibition. Lots of liquor, lots of gambling.
Right up our man’s alley. One report said he lost $6,900 in one night, big money for 1920. He stayed an extra month in Havana.
Some say he was victimized by horse-racing hustlers, who ran a sting operation of fixed races and bilked our man of $130,000, an astronomical sum. Maybe that’s exaggerated. Legend and fact got mixed up in accounts of this life.
But he did lose all his ample money. In fact, he and his wife made it home for Christmas only because she saved what little he had given her. There would be much more money to be made, and lost, for Babe Ruth.
A Christmas story, mid-1990s: The trip seemed to take forever for the Church of Christ missionary’s son. He was somewhere around 5 years old, and his family, which lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, would drive to the country to hand pick its Christmas tree.
The whole family would go. Mom, dad, three girls, two boys. The trip was long for a little boy, but the family would sing Christmas songs the whole way, sort of a Scottish version of the Sound of Music.
The whole scene was quite different from where the family eventually would settle, the Texas Panhandle, which would produce quite the football player in Auston English.