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A Christmas memory

Come Christmas, I always think of Taddy.

His full name, Tadeusz Klarrman, was too much for the South Alabama tongue. So Taddy is what we called him.

He arrived in our little town sometime in 1951. They, the grownups, put him in the 6th grade. By early 1952 he was gone, and today, to me, he would be just another fading picture in an old yearbook. If it weren’t for Christmas.

They, the grownups, told us Taddy was a refugee. They didn’t tell us much more. Imagination supplied the rest, and put together a story of how, at the end of World War II, Taddy and his mother were caught behind the Iron Curtain. Then, in the confusion and chaos of postwar Europe they made it across the border and became DPs – Displaced Persons. Sticking together, they survived the camps, found an American sponsor, crossed the ocean, and one day arrived in Grove Hill, Alabama.

Since he was a few years older than me, I never really got to know him, never played with him, don’t know if we ever spoke. All I remember is his riding around town on an old bicycle, alone.

And the story my parents told me.

It began with his class Christmas party.

Students in each room drew names for gift-giving.

They don’t do that any more, which is good. The teachers meant well, but name drawing wasn’t fun.

Especially for poor kids.

I grew up among folks who didn’t have much. Today people look back through rose-tinted glasses and talk about being poor but not knowing it. These children knew it. They were the ones who spent the year collecting the tinfoil from discarded cigarette packages to make shiny balls to decorate their Christmas tree because they could not afford the store-bought kind. It was all their parents could do to buy a Christmas gift for their own children, much less someone else’s. Name drawing reminded them, and us, of their situation.

Taddy’s family fell into that category.

Mr. Brady owned a hardware store, which during the Christmas season he magically converted into a toyshop where all the delights of childhood could be displayed. Every day after school my friends and I would drop by to see what new wonders had arrived and to stare at the stack of two-gun, double-holster, cap-pistol sets that were on all our Christmas lists.

I was probably thinking about those guns when my parents told me what happened.

Somehow Mr. Brady had learned of Taddy’s situation. So he went and got him and took him to his store and told him to pick out whatever he wanted to give the name he had drawn. Taddy went straight over to the two-gun, double-holster, cap-pistol set and said “This.”

Mr. Brady wrapped it and handed it to him.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Then Mr. Brady told Taddy, “Now you pick out the gift that you would like to have for yourself.” And Taddy went over and picked up another two-gun, double-holster, cap-pistol set.

And I knew what my parents were telling me. Taddy was what Christmas giving should be all about. At Christmas we should give what we, ourselves, treasure most.

Now that happened a long time ago.

But come Christmas, I always think of Taddy.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.