The next few days groaned by. Now only three more school days remained before Christmas vacation, that greatest time of all year. As it drew closer, Miss Iona Pearl Bodkin, my homeroom teacher, became more and more manic, whipping the class into a veritable frenzy of Yuletide joy. We belted out carol after carol. We built our own paper Christmas tree with cut-out ornaments. We strung together long strings of popcorn chains. Crayon Santas and silver-paper wreaths poured out of our assembly line.
Miss Bodkin, after recess, addressed us: “I want all of you to write a theme…”
A theme! A rotten theme before Christmas! There must be kids somewhere who love writing themes, but to a normal air-breathing human kid, writing themes is a torture that ranks only with the dreaded medieval chin-breaker of Inquisitional fame. A theme!
“…entitled, ‘What I want for Christmas,’ “ she concluded.
The clouds lifted. I saw a faint gleam of light at the other end of the black cave of gloom which had enveloped me since my visit to Santa. Rarely had the words poured from my penny pencil with such feverish fluidity. Here was a theme on a subject that needed talking about if ever one did. I remember to this day its glorious wing phrases and concise imagery:
"What I want for Christmas is a red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. I think everybody should have a Red Ryder BB gun. They are very good for Christmas. I don’t think a football is a very good Christmas present."
I wrote it on blue-lined paper from my Indian Chief tablet, being very careful about the margins. Miss Bodkin was very snippy about uneven margins. The themes were handed in and I felt somehow what when Miss Bodkin read mine she would sympathize with my plight and make an appeal on my behalf to the powers that be, and that everything would work out, somehow. She was my last hope.
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, Jean Shepherd, 1966.
Shepherd’s book of course became the basis for the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story set in industrial northwest Indiana where Ralphie struggles through boyhood and Shepherd himself serves as the movie’s off-screen narrator.