When Jimmy was seven years old, all he wanted for Christmas was an Olympic Flyer wagon so Daddy could pull him around the neighborhood on Saturday mornings, when the weather was nice. He wrote a letter to Santa Claus and had Mommy send it through the mail to the North Pole, and he did this right after Thanksgiving so that the letter would have plenty of time to get to Santa.
Then, in early December Santa came to the local department store, and Jimmy sat on his lap and reminded him about the wagon, and Santa nodded his head and said, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”.
“Don’t forget,” Jimmy called as he walked away, and Santa winked at him.
On Christmas morning, Jimmy woke up before dawn and ran down the hallway to the living room where the tree sparkled in the darkness. He shrieked with excitement when he saw that there were presents under the tree, and his mommy and daddy and baby sister came running in to see what was the matter.
“Santa’s been here!” Jimmy yelled.
But then his smile fell, for just a second, when he realized that there were only two gifts and that neither one was large enough to be a wagon. After a moment, though, Jimmy’s face lit up again, and he grabbed one of the packages.
“This one’s for you, Grace!” he said and handed the gift to his sister.
“And this one …,” Jimmy said. “Is for me! You go first, Grace.”
Grace opened her package and inside found a baby doll, which she clutched to her chest.
“I love her!” Grace exclaimed.
“Alright, my turn,” Jimmy said.
He was excited even though he could tell from the shape of the package what was inside, and he ripped off the wrapping paper.
“Oh, neat!” he called. “It’s a broomstick horse.”
Daddy looked embarrassed and stammered, “Um, look, Jimmy,” he said. “I know that you asked Santa for a wagon, but it’s been a hard year for everyone.” He looked at Mommy and frowned. “Santa included.”
“That’s OK, Daddy,” Jimmy said. “I really like the horse. Besides, maybe you can ride it around the block with me sometimes. Could we do that on sunny Saturday mornings?”
Daddy smiled. “Well, of course we can, Jimmy.”
“Great!” Jimmy said. “Then it’s just what I wanted!”
When Jimmy was 18, all he wanted for Christmas was to spend time with his new bride.
He and Gerty had been sweethearts all through grade school and middle school, and even when Jimmy quit to work on the farm with his daddy, Gerty had been his girl.
As soon as she graduated from high school in May, Jimmy had proposed to her, and she said yes. They spent the summer making plans and figuring out how to get as many friends and family to the wedding as possible and then, the day after Thanksgiving, everyone gathered at the Whispering Valley Methodist church for the ceremony.
Gerty was a teller at First Valley Bank, though, and had to work the next week, so they had not had any kind of proper honeymoon. That’s why Jimmy was so looking forward to Christmas, when the bank would be closed for a few days and he and Gerty could disappear for awhile.
On the evening of December 23, Gerty came home with a fistful of mail, having stopped at the post office after work. The next day was Christmas Eve, the first day of the bank shutdown, and the neither she nor Jimmy would be back in town before the New Year.
“Looks like we’re a pretty popular couple,” Jimmy said when Gerty showed him the stack of cards in brightly-colored envelopes. “Must be because you’re so pretty!”
He winked at his wife, and she blushed.
Together, they opened each envelope in turn, carefully reading through the sentiments on the cards and cooing to one another as they anticipated the week ahead.
Finally, when the pile was gone, Jimmy noticed that there was one lone thin white envelope left to open. He did not know why, but his stomach churned as he slid his finger under the flap and pried it open. Inside was a single sheet of folded paper, which he held up and read on his own.
His face paled and Gerty clasped his hand. “What’s wrong, Jimmy?”
He gave her a sweet smile and said, “Nothing’s wrong dear. It’s just that our country needs me.”
Jimmy handed the paper to his wife, and tears welled in her eyes as she read his draft notice. He was to report to basic training on the day after Christmas.
She squeezed his arm and said, “Oh, Jimmy. I love you … and I’ll be here when you come home!”
He smiled again. “That’s just what I wanted for Christmas this year,” he said.
When Jimmy was 45, all he wanted for Christmas was to spend the holiday with his baby girl. Heather had moved away for college three years earlier and had not been home since.
But they had big plans her senior year, when she was going to fly home on December 23 and then spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Jimmy and Gerty and Jason, her younger brother.
The next week would be spent catching up with friends and family, and then Heather would be home again on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day before flying back to New York on January 2. She already had her post-graduate job lined up and would be moving to Los Angeles in May, so Jimmy knew that holiday season might be the last real time he would get to spend with his daughter — surely for many years, and maybe forever.
He and Gerty were putting the finishing touches on their tree the Sunday before Christmas when the phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” Jimmy told his wife, who was standing on a chair to put ornaments on the high branches.
He went to the kitchen, and Gerty could tell from his voice that it was Heather calling.
She had met a boy — a man, really — and they were going to get married in the Spring. But he had not yet introduced her to his parents, so they were going to spend Christmas in Pennsylvania.
She was sorry, but she wouldn’t be home that year after all.
Jimmy’s eyes welled with tears, and Gerty could hear the thickness in his voice when he said, “Well, that’s OK, honey. You do what you need to do.”
“Don’t worry, though, Dad,” Heather said on the other end of the line. “I’ll always be your little girl.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear this Christmas,” Jimmy said, and he smiled.
When Jimmy was an old man, all that Gerty wanted for Christmas was one more Christmas with her husband.
They had been together for nearly 60 years, which wasn’t long enough, and she didn’t know what she was going to do without him.
Jimmy had been sick for more than a year, but as November rolled into December, he told Gerty that he was looking forward to their annual Christmas family gathering at home. His doctor, who had been standing in the corner of Jimmy’s hospital room, gave Gerty a grim look and shook his head. He stepped into the hallway and motioned for Gerty to follow him.
She squeezed her husband’s hand and said, “Yes, I’m looking forward to that, too, Jimmy. I need to go make the arrangements now.”
Outside the room, the doctor told Gerty that Jimmy was not well enough to go home, and that he would need to stay in the hospital or he wouldn’t make it to Christmas at all. Gerty fought back the lump in her throat and said, “Thank you, doctor, I understand.”
A week later, she stood by Jimmy’s bedside once again, holding tight to his weak and clammy hand.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t get you home for the holidays, honey,” she told him. She was riddled guilt and grief.
Jimmy scanned the people gathered around his bed, eyes lingering on each familiar face for a few seconds. Heather was there, and Jason, and their spouses and children. Jimmy’s little sister, Grace, was at the foot of the bed. Four or five longtime friends stood beyond the inner circle of family members, all smiling at Jimmy, some with tears streaming down their cheeks.
He had not seen so many of his most beloved ones together at the same time since he and Gerty got married.
At last, Jimmy locked eyes with Gerty, and smiled, shaking his head.
“No, Gerty, it’s perfect,” he said. “This is what I’ve always wanted for Christmas.”