“Tell me a story of Christmas,” she said.
The television mumbled faint inanities in the next room. From a few houses down the block came the sound of car doors slamming and guests being greeted with large cordiality.
Her father thought awhile. His mind went back over the interminable parade of Christmas books he had read at the bedside of his children.
“Well,” he started, tentatively, “Once upon a time, it was the week before Christmas, and all the little elves at the North Pole were sad.”
“I’m tired of elves, “ she whispered. And he could tell she was tired, maybe almost as weary as he was himself after the last few feverish days.
“OK,” he said. “There was once, in a city not very far from here, the cutest wriggly little puppy you ever saw. The snow was falling, and this little puppy didn’t have a home. As he walked along the streets, he saw a house that looked quite a bit like our house. And at the window ...”
“Was a little girl who looked quite a bit like me, “she said with a sigh. “I’m tired of puppies. I love Pinky, of course. I mean story puppies.”
“OK,” he said. “No puppies. This narrows the field.”
“Nothing. I’ll think of something. Oh, sure. There was a forest, way up in the North, farther even than where Uncle Ed lives. And all the trees were talking about how each one was going to be the grandest Christmas tree of all. One said, ‘I am going to be a Christmas tree, too.’ And all the trees laughed and laughed and said: ‘A Christmas tree? You? Who would want you?’”
“No trees, Daddy, “ she said. “We have a tree at school and at Sunday school and at the supermarket and downstairs and a little one in my room. I am very tired of trees.”
“You are very spoiled, “ he said.
“Hmmm,” she replied. “Tell me a Christmas story.”
“Let’s see. All the reindeer up at the North Pole were looking forward to pulling Santa’s sleigh. All but one, and he felt sad because,” he began with a jolly ring in his voice but quickly realized that this wasn’t going to work either.
His daughter didn’t say anything; she just looked at him reproachfully.
“Tired of reindeer, too?” he asked. “Frankly, so am I. How about Christmas on the farm when I was a little boy? Would you like to hear about how it was in the olden days, when my grandfather would heat up bricks and put them in the sleigh and we’d all go for a ride?”
“Yes, Daddy,” she said, obediently. “But not right now. Not tonight.”
He was silent, thinking. His repertoire, he was afraid, was exhausted. She was quiet, too. Maybe, he thought, I’m home free.
Maybe she has gone to sleep.
“Daddy,” she murmured. “Tell me a story of Christmas.”
Then it was as though he could read the words, so firmly were they in his memory. Still holding her hand, he leaned back:
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed ...”
Her hand tightened a bit in his, and he told her a story of Christmas.
The story of this story
No one is certain when Bill Vaughan’s “A Story of Christmas” first appeared in The Kansas City Star, but it has become one of the most cherished stories in the newspaper’s archives.
We began reprinting it as early as 1959. In recent years reader demand has turned it into an annual tradition. Vaughan was the longtime resident humorist at the paper.
He wrote the Starbeams column for more than 30 years as well as witty essays. At the time of his death in 1977, Vaughan was associate editor of The Star.