1928 - Alderson High School - 1968

 

Scooter's Christmas Story

A Short Story by Barry Worrell - December 1, 2011

In the year 1947, Alderson, West Virginia was a thriving little town. Main Street had the bulk of the city's businesses and generally speaking, most were doing well. Sitting in the valley divided by the Greenbrier River in south-eastern West Virginia, it also straddles two counties; Monroe to the south, and Greenbrier to the north.  Paralleling the river is the railroad which was maintained by the C & O and trains stopped at the depot several times a day. On warm Saturday nights, the population in and around Alderson “went to town”. Main Street had all parking spots full while the folks got their entertainment by sitting  in their cars and trucks or visited the stores and went to the theater.

It's now Christmastime in Alderson and the storefronts and homes are decorated, and there's hope to have snow for Christmas. The town's population will increase with folks arriving from all over to spend this time with family and friends. The train station and highways will be busy along with the towns businesses. There will be folks singing Christmas carols at night and dropping by old friend's for a cup of hot chocolate. A special time in a special place.

The main character of this story is Roland Ballard, Jr., “Scooter” to most everyone. Scooter, his dad Roland, and mom Susan, lived on Maple Ave on the Greenbrier County side of Alderson. Scooter was well known in Alderson because he was all over town when he wasn't in school. There wasn't much danger for an eight year old to be wandering around by himself, except the railroad and the river. He had learned his lesson about the railroad when he was caught going under a stopped coal car by Carl Hardesty. He really gave Scooter "what for" about messing around rail cars. It made such a impression on Scooter, he was extra careful after that, only crossing where you should, at the wooden crossing. As for the river, there was no use in going close to it for it was too cold.

Roland Sr. was a carpenter who did work for many people in the Alderson area and had his shop in a converted garage at the back of his house.  Susan was a home maker and was especially known for her baking that helped the family income by selling baked goods. She worked from their home and the Christmas season was very busy for her. Scooter was in the third grade at Alderson Elementary School and was about to go on Christmas break and Christmastime was Scooter's favorite time of the year. The Ballard's were like many families in Alderson, they work hard during the day, had many friends, because everyone knew everybody. Evenings were spent going to the movies, or just sitting home listening to the radio or reading.

Scooter's story is about a child seeking a particular present without the certainty of getting it. His story is familiar, however it could be any, and or many families, in any town. The Ballard family is fictional, while others in the story, John Alderson, Floyd Lobban, Jim Russell, Carl Hardesty and Scooter's friends, Mickey and David, were actual people who lived and worked in Alderson.

Thursday, December 18:

Susan Ballard is fixing supper and Scooter is sitting at the kitchen table looking at the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog. “Here they are!” almost shouting. “The cap pistol set.” Again Scooter says it slowly and with an emphasis as if he were heralding each word. “The, Roy, Rogers, Double, Cap, Pistol, Set!” “Yes Scooter.” “You've showed them to me a dozen time.” “Yeah, I know.” “But ain't they super-duper?” As if he were shot from a gun himself, Scooter jumps up from his seat and runs in the living room shouting “Pow...... Pow.....Pow, Pow!” Just then Roland comes in the front door and Scooter runs right in to him. “Whoa there Partner!” his dad said. “What's all the ruckus?” “I'm shootin' bad guys, Dad.”  Roland started to speak, but Scooter interrupted. “Do you know how to tell the good guys from the bad guys, Dad?” “How”, said Roland. “When the movie starts you look for the guys in the black hats.” “ They're the bad guys.”  Roland had no chance to respond because Scooter ran off to his room.

“Hi Honey.” Roland kisses Susan and grins. “What's for supper?” “How's pork chops sound?” “Wonderful!” he replies. In a much lower voice Roland says, “I see he's still on that cap pistol set.” “I guess we better get them for him.” “Can we afford it?” Matching his volume, Susan says, “With the pies I made for the Lions Club Christmas dinner, we can.” “I'll call Lobban's and have them put a set aside.” “Don't forget,” said Roland.

Lobban's was the town's furniture store and during Christmas they dedicated a large space to toys for the kids. On the right side of the door, in the window, they had a large train set on top of a couple of tables, and further back in the store was the toy section which seem to be occupied by kids all day long while they were on Christmas break.

Scooter is a big fan of Westerns, and for an 8 year old, he has seen a lot of them at the Alpine theater. Even his room has evidence of his love for cowboys. His bed has cowboys on the sheets and pillows and so does his pajamas. The light shade on the ceiling has cowboys on their horses painted on it. Also in his room he has a radio where he listens to shows like “Straight Arrow”, “The Lone Ranger”, “Gunsmoke”, and other radio shows. Hearing his mom calling him to supper, he turns off his radio and heads for the kitchen.

"Oh boy!"  says Scooter, "Pork Chops", "Yummy." "I thought you'd say that", said his mom. The Ballards sat down for supper.

Friday, December 19:

The next day while Scooter is in school, Susan makes the call. “Mr. Lobban?” “This is Susan Ballard.” "Do you still have those double cap pistol sets?" “The ones with Roy Rogers on the holsters?" “Yes, I have three or four sets left.” “Could you put aside one set and I'll pick it up on the 23rd.” “I certainly will Susan.” “Thank you Mr. Lobban.”  “Merry Christmas.” “You too Susan.” " Good by.”

Well, it seems things were progressing right along with everything falling into place. The next day would start the Christmas break, and for children like Scooter, this is a time for building up expectations and playing in the snow.

Scooter had developing a daily ritual in the morning of getting the Beckley Post Herald and looking at the upper left corner where there was a drawing of Santa Claus holding a sign telling how many days there were left until Christmas. In the late afternoon just before supper, he would go over to Main Street to look at the Christmas decorations and go into Lobban's to see the gun set and play with the toys. He did this almost every day until Christmas.

 

Saturday, December 20:

Scooter awoke suddenly and looked at the clock, and then he remembered it was Saturday and school was out for Christmas. Lying on his back he stares at his light shade with all the actions pictures of cowboys. One in particular was a cowboy riding his horse and firing both guns. “Just like Roy Rogers” he thought. Something else caught his attention. It was the sound, or the lack of it. It was too quiet. He jumps to the window and pulls back the curtains. “Wow!” he said. About 4 inches of new snow had fallen during the night and the outside sounds muffled with snow on the ground.

Scooter dresses and runs to the front door, opens it and looks outside. With the new fallen snow, only a few tire tracks on the street revealed that any one was up and around. “Mom?” “Did the paper come?”. “It's in here on the kitchen table,” she said. He picked up the paper and looked in the upper left hand corner and read it. “Only five more days 'til Christmas.” “Mom?” “Can I go sleigh ridin' today?” “Oh, I suppose so, who are you going with?” “I'm gonna see if David can go.” “OK.” she said. “Just be home for lunch.”

David, living on High Street, on the Monroe side, had a steep hill in his own yard, but it wasn't very long, and the sledding trail would cross the street. Not a good idea during the day. The kids occasionally use it to sleigh ride at night when they could continue the trail across the street and into the field on the other side, and post someone to give warning in case a car was coming down the street. They would burn an old tire for warmth and light.

Discussing the possibilities, David and Scooter decided to go to Mr. Fitzgerald house on Dark Hollow road because it was isolated from any vehicle traffic. Along the way they discuss what they each wanted for Christmas and David was hoping for a bike. Of course Scooter would like to have one also, but he knows they're expensive. And, for the "umpteenth" time, he told David that he wanted the gun set.

About a quarter of a mile after turning on to Dark Hollow road, they got to Mr. Fitzgerald's. His house sat high on a steep hill with an empty lot on the side which he also owned. It was long and smooth lot, quickly leveling out about 50 feet before reaching the creek. They knocked on Mr. Fitzgerald's door and asked him if they could sleigh ride on his lot. “Sure, just don't run in the creek,” he said with a smile. The boys promised and climbed up to the top and started breaking trails to the bottom.

After a few runs it got pretty fast and they were approaching the creek closer each time. They now had to drag their feet to keep from going into the creek. They road their sleds until about noon and then went to Scooter's for lunch, with Susan fixing them sandwiches. She also agreed to let Scooter go back and sleigh ride a couple of hours more.

Once more they walked to Mr. Fitzgerald's house and climbed the hill. It was a lot warmer than in the morning and the sun was already melting the snow. Scooter sat down on his sled, grabbed the rope, and put his feet on the guiders. “Gimme' a push!” he said. Without hesitation David put his foot on the back of Scooter's sled and pushed. Scooter started waving his hand in the air like he was riding a bronco as his sled pick up speed. When the sled reached the place where the lot started to level out, it sunk and stopped quickly in the melting snow. Then, the most amazing thing happened. While the sled had stopped, Scooter kept going. At that angle he was launched forward and landed face down. Still holding on to the sled's rope, his momentum had pulled the sled out of the snow and it followed Scooter, ending up on his back. Observing all this, David was laughing so hard he lost his footing and slid down the hill on his butt. David arrived quickly and jumped up. “That was great, Scooter!”. “I've never seen any one put on the breaks like that!” “Scooter pushed the sled off and laid there glaring at David. “You stinkin' polecat!” yelled Scooter. “Help me up!” David grabbed his hand and helped him stand.

The boys realized there would be no more sleigh riding today so they decided to go home. “You better go get your sled,” Scooter grinned. David climbed the hill one more time and got his sled, but did get the last ride down, carefully stopping before reaching the soft snow.

Sunday, December 21:

The Ballards went to church that morning, sang Christmas hymns and the preacher told the Christmas story, and afterward stayed home the rest of the day. Roland and Susan rested and entertained a few folks that came by. Scooter looked at the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog, counted the Christmas presents, listened to his radio and played outside in what was left of the snow. For Susan and Roland, just a relaxing day.

 

Monday, December 22:

Monday morning, work continued for Susan and Roland, and Scooter did whatever he could find to do. In the afternoon he was once more in Lobban's closely examining the set of guns. His friend Mickey came up and said, "They're beauties, ain't they?” “Yeah” said Scooter, “Prettiest guns I ever saw.” Pausing a moment he continues. “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” “Naww..”, answered Mickey, “My dad says he ain't real.” Still questioning, Scooter says. “Yeah, but what do you think?” Mickey stares at the floor and says. “I'm not really sure”. Scooter answers, “I ain't either.” Scooter carefully puts the gun set back on the table and says, “See ya”. “OK Scooter” said Mickey.

Scooter didn't realize how long he had been in Lobbans' until he walks out the door. The sun was setting and it was getting dark. He walks up the street, glancing in every window. Standing on the corner in front of the bank, he looks at Alderson's. In the dimming light, the decorations in their windows are sparkling. Smiling, Scooter turns and walks across the bridge and heads for home.

Tuesday, December 23:

That morning Susan receives a phone call. “Susan?” “This is Floyd Lobban.” “I hate to have to tell you this, but someone bought the gun set I put away for you.” “Oh no!" said Susan. “I'm really sorry it happen.” he said. “I know it wouldn't be here for Christmas, but I would be happy to order one for you.” “Well”, said Susan. “I guess that would be the best thing we could do at this point, although Scooter is really going to be disappointed.” “I wouldn't have had this happen for anything,” said Mr. Lobban. “Its alright”, said Susan,' it will all work out. “I'll call you immediately as soon as it comes in,” said Mr. Lobban. “Merry Christmas Susan” “Merry Christmas to you also, Mr. Lobban.

That evening when Roland gets home, Susan meets him at the door. “Ive got some bad news.” The gun set got sold and they don't have any more.” “How on earth did that happen?” “He didn't know. One of the clerks must have found it and sold it.”, “He's going to be disappointed,” Roland said “Yes he will,” she said. “We have other presents for him and he doesn't really know for sure that he's getting the gun set.” Mr. Lobban offered to order one and I told him to go ahead.” “Lets not worry about it” “Boy,” Roland said, “That's too bad.” After supper, the Ballard family went to the movies.

Wednesday, December 24, Christmas Eve:

Scooter was making his daily trip west on Main Street. This time he decided to go straight to the theater and work his way back. Standing in front of the Alpine he read the posters. “The Bishop's Wife, staring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven.” Scooter had just seen it the night before. Actually he goes every time the movies changes, which is usually three times a week. From there, he could hear Christmas music playing from the speaker mounted in the doorway of Jim Russell's Radio Shop. Standing outside, Scooter listens briefly and goes in to warm up a bit. “Hello Mr. Russell.” “Hi “Scooter.” Mr. Russell replies. “Come to listen to some Christmas music, huh?” Scooter nodded his head. “How 'bout a nice record player or radio for Christmas?” “Nope!” “I got a radio.” Scooter answered quickly. “I want that Roy Rogers double cap pistol set that's in Lobban's.” “Well,” said Mr. Russell. “That's the place to get 'em.” Mr. Russell adds, "Suppose to snow tonight." Scooter nodded his head as he turned to walk out the door. “See you later, Mr. Russell.” “OK Scooter.” “Merry Christmas.”

A few steps later, he was standing in front of Lobban's window watching that marvelous train set that was positioned on two large tables, winding around with lots of buildings and cotton for snow. “I'll get one of those also one day.” Scooter thought. As if it were right on cue, a light snow started to fall. Scooter watched a moment and went inside where Mr. Lobban had his “tables of toys”. As they did every year, Scooter, and all the other kids in town had spent hours playing with them all.

But this time he went straight for the Roy Rogers double cap pistol set. His heart sank! They weren't there! Franticly he searched every table. And he searched them again. No Roy Rogers double cap pistol set!! Scooter looked for Mr. Lobban and saw him walking back into his office. He ran through the store and hollered out, “Mr. Lobban! Mr. Lobban”! Mr. Lobban turned and said. “Yes Scooter”. “What is it?” “I don't see the cap pistol set!” “You know, the Roy Rogers double cap pistol set?” “Sorry Scooter, we're all sold out.” he said. “Will you get more?” Scooter said. “'Fraid not my friend”. “You'll just have to rely on Santa Claus.” Mr. Lobban laughed and went into his office. 

Scooter was really getting worried. He wasn't so certain he could count on Santa Claus this Christmas for some of his friends were saying there wasn't any Santa Claus! At least he had his bases covered because Lobban's had the guns. But now, he had no back up. 

 

As he walked up the street, his spirit was low. Normally he would look at the large pine tree beside the railroad track that was decorated each Christmas, but this time he didn't notice. His mind was so fixed on that gun set, he didn't even look at Alderson's beautifully decorated window as he walked by. Just then, Mr. Alderson came out of the store. “Scooter!” “Your mother has been calling all over town and you better get home!” Scooter just stared at Mr. Alderson but didn't say a word. He turned and started toward the bridge. With his head down he didn't look at the lights that covered the bridge either.

The snow was lightly falling and normally Scooter would enjoy walking home in it, but at the moment, it didn't seem to matter much. He did notice a few cars out with Christmas presents in their back windows, and he wonders if it were possible he would get his gun set. From the tower of the Baptist church he heard the chimes playing Christmas carols. "It's six o'clock", he thought. "Better hurry home."  A chill came over him and fastened the top button on his coat. 

So who told you to come home this time?” Susan said with a grin. “Mr. Alderson”, he mumbled. “Who?” she said. “Mr. Alderson!” he yelled. “Now, don't get smart!,” said his mom. “Go wash your hands!” Scooter then realized he had just yelled at his mom and that was something he didn't do. He went to the bathroom to wash his hands and his mom was wondering what was bothering him. Going back to the kitchen he says, “Mom,” “Do you think Santa Claus is real?” “Why do you ask that?” she said. “Aw......some of the guys at school said I was goofy for believin' in Santa Claus.” “Well,” “don't pay any attention to them.” She rubs his head and says, “Your dad will be here soon and supper is almost ready.”
 

Scooter went in the living room and checked all the presents under the tree to see if there were any new ones, which didn't take long, because by now, he had them all memorized. He then sat on the couch and looked at the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog. "They've got a better toy section than Lobban's, but not much better", he thinks. Page by page he slowly went through. He knew where the gun set was, but it was more fun to gradually get to them. “There it is,” he thought. “A Roy Rogers double cap pistol set.” “I hope there's a Santa Claus.” He thumbed through a few more pages, closed the catalog and laid it down, back cover up. Staring up at him was a page full of Christmas fruitcakes. “Blah”, he said with disgust. “Fruitcake!”

Scooter heard his Dad wiping his feet at the back door. As soon as Roland came in the house, Scooter ran up to him and said. “Dad?” “There really is a Santa Claus, isn't there?” Roland stoops, hugs Scooter and says, “You bet there is bud!” That's all Scooter needed to hear and it raised his spirit. “Come to supper.” said Susan. While Roland was still bent over, Scooter whispered in his ear, “Mom fried oysters”, and grins real big. Grinning back, Roland says, “Yeah, I smelled them when I hit the door.”

After supper the Ballards went to the Methodist Church for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. The snow was still falling and getting heavy. About the same time Mr. Lobban had just finished with his last customer and had locked the door. He returns to his office for his overcoat. With the lights off in the store, vision wasn't too good and he kicks an empty box by the coat rack uncovering another box that looked familiar. “I'll be doggone.” he said. “There's the cap pistol set!” “It wasn't sold after all.” Immediately he phones Susan Ballard to tell her he's found the gun set. With no answer he decides they must be visiting friends or at church. Then he gets an idea. He puts a couple rolls of caps in the box, wraps the gun set with Christmas paper and places a nice big bow on the side. He then fills out a tag that said, “To: Scooter – From: Santa.” He drives over to the Ballard home and knocks on the door to see if they had returned. With no answer, he opens the screen door to put the present there and noticed the front door is slightly ajar. He goes in and places the present under the Christmas tree and leaves.

About an hour later, the Ballards return. Susan starts cleaning up the kitchen, Roland sat down to read the Hinton Daily News, and Scooter went straight to his room to listen to his radio. Before he can finish his show, Susan tells Scooter to go to bed. “But I wanna listen to Inner Sanctum”, he whined. “You know that show give you nightmares,” she scolded. “But, there's no school!”, he pleaded. Then with her patience running short she demanded. “If you don't do as you're told, Santa Claus won't come to see you tonight!”  “OK Mom, I'll go to bed right now.” Almost before Susan could sit down, Scooter ran in and had his pajamas on and his teeth brushed. He gave them both a kiss and ran to his room, turned off the lights and jumped in bed. “What's got into him?” Roland asked. “Oh, just a little threat”, she sighed. “What's wrong with his pajamas.” asked Roland. She wasn't paying attention. Her eye just caught glimpse of a new present under the tree. “Roland?” “Did you put that present under the tree?” “What present.” he asked. “The square one, on the right.” “Nope.” “Wasn't me.” Susan goes over to the tree, picks up the present and reads the tag. Turning to Roland she says, “To Scooter – From Santa?” “I don't know anything about it,” Roland says again. She sits down beside Roland and they both stare at the present and for a few moments. “You know,” she said, “it could be the gun set and Mr. Lobban brought it over.” “But how did he get it so fast?" "And how did he get in the house?" Again, as if he were pleading the fifth, Roland repeats his original statement. “I don't know anything about it.” Then, like a little boy he says excitingly, “Do you think we should open it?” “No!” “We're not going to open it.” she scolds. “You're just like Scooter.” Let's just let him open it in the morning.” “It's a miracle Scooter didn't see it.”
 

Scooter laid there, his eyes wide open, too excited to sleep. He gets out of bed and pulls the curtains back and looks out the window, as if he were looking for Santa. The snowfall is heavy and everything is all white.  He thinks, “Snow for Christmas." "This is gonna be great.” Looking at the street light he can see the snow falling in front of it. He sits on the cedar chest by the window and watches for a while. The snow flakes change from large to small, and back again. He thinks, “Why can't it snow like this during school?” He goes back to bed and his mind drifts from cap pistols,.... to snow,.... to Christmas,.... and falls asleep.

Thursday, December, 25: Christmas Morning:

Susan is up early despite the fact she was exhausted with all the busyness of the season. But the exhaustion felt good, as a “good tired” feeling, and she wanted to enjoy as much of her next few days off as she could. Both Roland and Scooter were still in bed. She didn't think much of Roland still in bed, but Scooter, she thought, would have been the first one up. “I know how to get Roland up,” she said. She makes a pot of coffee, pores her a cup and settles on the couch. Just then Roland appears in the door. “I knew the coffee would get you up.” she grins. Roland continues to the kitchen, gets his coffee, comes back and sits beside her. They both stare at the mystery Christmas present. Susan starts singing out, “Scoooo-ter,” “Scooo-ter.” echoes Roland. Again she says. “Scoooo-ter.” “Scoooo-ter,” Roland echoes again. Scooter comes thorough the door, his hair standing on end, his pajama top is on wrong side out, and the bottom is on backwards. He runs over and starts to sit down beside them. Roland tells him “Go out side and get the morning paper!” “Roland, don't,” she says. With two fingers Roland touches Susan's lips lightly and repeats. “Go out side and get the morning paper!” In bare feet Scooter opens the door. The snow is piled up on the screen door and he has a hard time getting it open. He goes out in the snow on the porch and brings in the paper and offers it to his dad. With her apron, Susan wipes off Scooter's feet. “You look at it.” Roland says. Scooter unfolds it to the front page. Roland says, “What does it say in the upper left corner?' Scooter reads Santa's sign. “No more days until Christmas.” “It's Christmas!! he yells.
 

Scooter was shivering with excitement. The “new” present caught his eye. “Is that from Santa Claus?” he said. “Why don't you open it and see.” said his mom. Like a flash he picked it up and ripped the paper off. There is was! A Roy Rogers double cap pistol set. Roland and Susan were relieved. Scooter found the tag and read it. “To: Scooter – From: Santa” “There is a Santa Claus!,”  "There is a Santa Claus!” he yells.  He tares open the box, grabs the holsters and lifts the set high in the air, as if to show the world what beauties they were.

The lights reflects off the chrome metal and written on both holsters and belt, the revered name of “Roy Rogers!” Hunter of all bad guys. Scooter takes out the guns, pulls the triggers and remembers. Caps! Where's the caps? He searches through Christmas paper and found them lying on the floor. He loads each pistol, straps on the holsters, draws both guns and fires. Snap! Snap! The caps exploded from each gun. “Wait a minute” said his dad. “I think you should only shoot them outside, OK?” “OK Dad!” agreed Scooter. Holstering each gun, Scooter starts opening the rest of his presents. In the end he accumulated a new pair of pants, some underwear, couple pair of socks, and a nifty jackknife. But nothing could compare to the Roy Roger double cap pistol set.

Around noon the Ballards did what most of the town did, and ate a marvelous dinner that had been preparing for a couple of days. The rest of the day was spent going to see family and friends, and family and friends coming to see them. They drove to Ronceverte for a couple of hours to visit Susan's sister and Scooter got another Christmas present that he described as " just another pair of socks".  In between Scooter would fire off a few shots outside when he could.

David called and told Scooter he got his bike, and said when the snow melted a bit, he would bring it over. But not until Scooter went to bed that night did those pistols leave his side. At bedtime he finally took off the guns and hung them on the bed post by his head. That was so he could get to them quickly if any bad guys showed up.
 

Friday, December, 26:

Next morning Susan called Mr. Lobban at home to thank him for getting the guns to Scooter in time for Christmas. Strangely enough he flatly denied knowing anything about it and insisted that it was probably one of their family or friends that got the guns. Most of all he even refused to accept any payment for them. As Mr. Lobban hung up the phone he smiled sheepishly and said “Ho,” “Ho,” “Ho.”

As the years passed, Scooter played with those guns until he grew too old for cap pistols. Eventually he got a train set and a bike and he loved those presents also. But the "Roy Rogers Double Cap Pistol Set" was always his favorite Christmas present.

That's the end of the story. For our friend Scooter, it all worked out just as his mom predicted and though it doesn't always happen, he got exactly what he wanted. No one ever found out who put the present under the tree and Floyd Lobban never told anyone that we know of, because for the next several months it was just speculation.
 

As all kids do when they grow up, they eventually find out there is no Santa Claus. But thinking again, maybe there is. Perhaps we just have the wrong perception of who Santa really is.

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