This is the Christmas season, and a Christmas season, furthermore, staggering forward under the growing cloud of economic catastrophe. That being the case, we should all look for ways to spread the Christmas spirit and perform acts of Christian generosity. Accordingly, I would like to share with readers the life-changing lessons imparted by Brother Beck in his heartwarming and inspirational little book.n
However priceless those lessons might be, the price of the book itself is well beyond the means of those who would most profit by it, especially since even slow readers will require a half-hour at most to finish the book. But you can get the full benefit of Mr. Beck’s wisdom in five minutes, should you choose actually to pick it up for a bookstore browse, as I did on a busy afternoon last week.n
Here’s what happens in the book: Little Eddie, a more-or-less snotty kid, wants a bicycle for Christmas, but instead gets an ugly homemade sweater, which his widowed mother has knitted for him through cold winter evenings, her gnarled fingers making a complete botch of the job. Eddie expresses his displeasure at receiving the ugly garment; but he doesn’t just throw it on the floor, he wads it up and hurls it at his weeping old mom, who suffers a broken nose.
Insult is added to injury when on the way home, snot-nosed Eddie and his broken-nosed ma are in a terrible car accident, and poor ma dies an agonizing death from the rupture of her inner organs. Worse, she is also impaled by the artificial Christmas tree in the back seat of the car. Eddie tries to stop all the bleeding with the ugly Christmas sweater, to no avail. Ma’s dying words are, “Yes, Eddie, there really is a Santa Claus!”n
Take that, Eddie!n
Eddie feels really bad, and for several years carries the blood-stiffened Christmas sweater in an Albertsons plastic grocery bag. (He still won’t wear it, however. Ugly is still ugly.)n
Through the years Eddie has a bunch of problems—he hits the bottle, gains a ton of weight, loses his job as a roofer when he falls through a skylight (he is so drunk, he can’t see straight). Finally, he meets an old man, who at first seems really weird, like the mean old neighbor in Home Alone or like Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. The old man (named Roger or Russell, or something like that) works in a combination laundromat and dry-cleaner and persuades Eddie to restore the bloody sweater to its former glory, which, in a heartfelt scene of redemption and self-sacrifice, he does.n
The sweater, unfortunately, shrinks in the process, and for a while, Eddie is once again down in the dumps. He’s so upset he throws a cup of laundry detergent in Roger’s face, blinding him for life. But Russell forgives him, and Eddie, in one of the most touching scenes in the history of literature, leads him home through a raging blizzard.n
Along the way they come upon a raggedly dressed street urchin selling homemade Christmas cookies. Eddie, now full of remorse for his misspent life, gives the street urchin the ugly, but freshly laundered, Christmas sweater, which, because it has shrunk, fits her perfectly. Eddie, who has been on a drinking binge for several days, is close to starving. He greedily munches a Christmas cookie, breaking a tooth and suffering an almost sudden bout of food poisoning.n
The street urchin and blind old Rupert now have to drag Eddie, who is bitching and moaning like crazy, through the snow, which is falling so fast it has created white-out conditions. They run across three strangely dressed old gents with funny hats who call themselves “maggy.” They help carry Eddie, now near death, to a nearby manger.n
At this point Eddie wakes up! It’s just been a bad dream! His ma is alive and Grandma is cooking bacon! There’s a shiny bicycle under the tree! Yes, Eddie, there really is a Santa!n
D.P. Sorensen writes satire for City Weekly.