Reflections of a Boy Named Christmas

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2012-08-08
  • Publisher: Author Solutions
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A memoir reveals the struggles of a southern boy as he attempts to overcome his greatest obstacle in life-his stuttering. Henry Sherman Christmas observed a man trying to do what most people do so easily, however, he was having little success. He was sixty five years old and the man's disability brought back all the memories of his youth, from his preschool days, trying to stay under the radar and under the bed, until loading his families old Ford sedan, in 1958, and heading to California. It involves the torment of an abusive but loving father, old Pa, and the protection of his mother, Ma, who would have given her life to defend her children. It's the mixed up world of cruelty and love that is so tightly woven they seem to appear as one. In this poignant memoir he shares a candid and heartfelt glimpse into the life of a child who stutters. It entails surviving the cruelty of his teacher in the first, second, and third grade, Mister, who though his disability was caused by his laziness and the neglect of his parents. It captures the caring side of Miss Jenkins, his teacher in the fourth grade, who taught him how to conquer his disability. Protected by his brother, Cone, and tormented by Billy, the relentless bully who would not leave him alone. Loved, and loved back, by his best friend Bo, a young black boy. He was born a poor sharecropper's son in 1945, in Arkansas. He's a story-teller, like his father. Reflections of A Boy Named Christmas, is the inspiring story of a boy who just wants to overcome his greatest obstacle in life-and through determination, perseverance, and the love of others, eventually manages to do just that.


The Stutter I heard a man stuttering today. He was trying to do one of the simple things in life: order a hamburger and fries from his favorite fast-food chain. I could only imagine the expression on his face as he struggled to deliver the words that the clerk needed to hear . . . speaking letters over and over, twisting his face in an effort to push the words out of his mouth . . . and then the sudden loss of airflow and deafening silence, giving him a moment to start all over again. He turned, and our eyes met. Long lines were etched into his face; they ran across his forehead, down his cheeks, and to the corners of his mouth. These were not the gentle lines formed by long years of living, but the hard lines created by years of struggling, hoping to fit in to a world where he could become normal. I looked into his eyes and saw embarrassment, frustration, shame, and hope—hope that somehow I would understand his inability to speak. My eyes drifted downward, past the lips that could not produce a smile, past the pleated shirt that was buttoned to his neck, and rested on his hands. His hands were clasped in front of him, fingers intertwined; he didn't seem to notice how hard he was squeezing. His hands were a crimson red, with protruding blood vessels running upward into his long shirtsleeves. My eyes dropped toward the floor and broke the connection. He would never know how his struggle affected me. My thoughts drifted back to my early childhood and my own struggles. When I was a young child, the complexities of stuttering never seemed to affect me. There was always a father, mother, or brother to finish my sentences, to understand my finger pointing, and to protect me from the outside world. It was a lifetime ago when I had to stand in front of my class and speak my name. It was my first day at school, in the first grade. It's as clear today as it was sixty years ago, as if I am watching a video not yet invented. The large yellow bus pulled up to the curb, the doors opened, and my brother flew down the steps with me right behind. He took my hand and led me to my classroom. He released my hand at the door and told me to go inside. I had never been alone before. My hand was shaking as I reached for the door. The glass knob felt cold and foreign. I turned it slowly and pushed. The oak door started to move, swinging open with a growl coming from the heavy brass hinges. I stepped inside, turned, and closed the door. Not wanting to leave the protection of the door, I stayed in that position for a while. A voice boomed from behind me and caused me to spin quickly: "I'm your teacher, Mister -----." Over the years I've tried so many times to remember his name, but I can't; it's lost in my mind. He instructed me to hang my coat and find a place to sit. There was no defying Mister. I pulled my coat off my shoulders and hung it next to the coats resting on rusty nails driven into the wall. There were lines of desks, each with an attached chair and a top that raised, leaving room underneath for books, pencils, and paper. I walked up the line of desks closest to me and sat at the first empty seat. There I was, all alone, looking down at the scarred and faded wood of the desktop. Then the voice sounded again, catching me off guard. I looked up from the desk, and there he was, standing at the front of the room with his bony hands resting on his hips. The blackboard behind him haloed his head; his hair was greasy and slicked back, and his thin face made his eyes seem to bulge outward. He had a thin nose that pointed to even thinner lips, and the corners of his lips curled down toward his chin, giving the impression that he had no empathy for those of us seated in front of him. One by one, he called on each student to stand and say his or her name, and then it was my turn. He removed his hand from his hip and pointed a long, bony finger in my direction; I slowly slid out of my seat and stood. The silence was so deafening that it made my ears ring. I tried to say my name; a string of Ss was the only part of Sherman I could force out of my mouth. I tried harder: another string of Ss. I twisted my face in an attempt to push the words out, but it was in vain; my lungs were empty, and I couldn't breathe. When the laughter started, I felt something I had never felt before: shame. No one was going to finish my sentence today, no one was coming to my rescue, and the laughter continued. Mister raised his hand, bringing silence to the room. He told the students, "This is what happens when you are lazy and neglected by your parents." In Arkansas, as in most states at that time, teachers had the right to punish children as they deemed appropriate, by spanking them with an instrument of their choosing. Mister's instrument of choice was a one-by-three-inch board, eighteen inches long, with six small holes drilled in one end. The other end had a handle carved to fit his hand and a leather strap looped through a hole in the handle. It hung beside the blackboard. He turned from the front of his desk and stepped toward the paddle, hanging so innocently in its resting place. He wrapped his hand around the handle and returned to the front of the class. His hand rose again, with its finger pointed toward me, but this time there was a wave of his hand, instructing me to come to the front of the class. Mister stood behind me and instructed me to say my name. My name was there, floating like a butterfly on the back of my tongue, teasing me; it would flit to the opening of my mouth with the intent of flying out, only to change its mind and disappear back into the darkness of my lungs. When my name did not come, the board landed and tried to drive it from my body. My name did not come on his first, his second, or his third strike. Then Mister said, "That's enough for today. You practice saying your name aloud tonight, and we will try this again tomorrow."

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