What does my brief appearance last month on stage in “The Murphey School Radio Show” have to do with Christmas memories? It is a little bit of a long story, starting with the confession that for a long time I wanted to be a ventriloquist like Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy.
Okay, “The Murphey School Radio Show” is not the “Grand Ole Opry” or Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion.” But many of the hundreds of people who saw the show in person or the countless others who heard the broadcast would say it was just as good.
I got to do a skit with popular author Lee Smith. She played the host on a program called “Bookwitch,” and I was her guest. The made-up title of my book was “Dummies for Dummies.” My ventriloquist’s dummy (or puppet) and I had small speaking parts.
It was a dream that began more than 60 years ago, about the time I had begun to figure out the role of Santa Claus.
My parents knew that I wanted Santa to bring me two things–a new basketball and a small ventriloquist’s dummy.
They told me that Santa couldn’t be expected to bring me two “big” presents and that I would have to choose which one I wanted the most.
Of course, I wanted both.
I needed the new basketball. The older kids wouldn’t always let me play with them. But if they wanted to play with my new ball, they would have to let me in the game.
As for the ventriloquist’s dummy, I was sure I could use it to amaze and entertain–and get the attention that I craved.
One day in our attic I found a square package with a brand new basketball–just like the one I wanted Santa to bring me.
What was “Santa’s” basketball doing in our attic?
I was pretty sure I knew the answer, but I didn’t like it. My friends and I had been talking about the question of whether or not Santa was real.
I had been a believer. But that basketball was, I knew, not really going to come from Santa.
Disturbed but also enlightened by this discovery, knowing that I was going to get the basketball from “Santa,” I told my parents that I wanted Santa to bring me the ventriloquist’s dummy.
At the very moment I was painfully giving up my belief in Santa Claus, I was still ready to exploit the system.
The story is not over. Christmas morning I came down the stairs looking for my dummy and my new basketball. Sure enough, there was the ventriloquist’s dummy beside the fireplace. But there was no basketball.
No basketball. “I thought I was getting a basketball,” I said to my parents.
“But don’t you remember. You said you wanted Santa to bring you the ventriloquist’s dummy, and that is just what he did.”
“Yes,” I thought, “but . . . but . . . but . . . I saw the basketball.”
It was all a puzzle. All so confusing. I liked the ventriloquist’s dummy, but I sure wanted the basketball, too. And I had seen it in the attic.
Later that morning, when we were opening the family presents, my dad reached under the tree and handed me a wrapped-up, square package. “From Mom and Dad,” the card said. When I opened it–well, you know what was inside.
I had my basketball–from my parents.
“Of course,” I thought. “That is why it had been in our attic.”
My basketball from Mom and Dad and my ventriloquist’s dummy from . . . from Santa. Yes, from Santa. Who else?
And I had another gift. It was, I think, the best gift of all.
One more year of believing.