By Sandra Beecroft Allen
This is the fourth of 10 essays selected to be published in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, “Christmas I Remember Best.”
During World War II our father was killed in a tragic accident while he worked at the large copper smelter in Douglas, Arizona. This left my widowed mother, Ruth Beecroft, with nine children to raise on her own. Times were tough and money was scarce. The Christmas I Remember Best was in 1946; we called it “The Giving Christmas.”
I had a wonderful older brother named Robert who was often called “Bob.” Bob was a star in our family. As a high school student, Bob had an outgoing personality, a great “Mickey Rooney” smile, and a disposition to match. He was well liked and considered “popular,” so I listened carefully to everything he said.
Bob played football (with his 5’9” 145-pound frame) and worked very hard to earn an athletic letter “D” from Douglas High School. The gold letter was to be worn on the left side of a black letterman’s sweater with stripes on the arm for each year he had played football. He had earned the letter by his junior year, but the family — a single mother with nine children to support — could not afford the sweater or the gold letter D.
The sweater was $17 and the D was an additional $5. That was quite a bit of money in those days.
Over time the family came up with a plan. We all wanted our brother to have the sweater. Our mother said she would somehow find the money for the first $8 and the rest of us who could work agreed to come up with the rest of the money. We decided we would buy it and surprise Bob for Christmas.
The sweater was ordered and for two months each family member worked and donated their earnings. This was a sacrifice, as we already had to earn money for our own recreation, toiletries, gifts and extras. Three of my other older brothers, James, Mark and David, had paper routes or jobs at the local service station. As a 12-year-old, I worked as a babysitter earning 25 cents an hour.
For two months the family worked and kept the secret. We worked and saved, did without, and slowly the money added up. It was an exciting November and December for me because I knew the secret.
On Dec. 22, the sweater arrived at the school and we finally had enough money to pay for it and pick it up.
On Christmas Eve, I hardly slept a wink; I was so excited to give this gift. When Christmas morning arrived, I couldn’t wait to see Robert open the box and see the surprise and delight on his face.
He said he was “wonderfully happy and so pleased.” He put on the sweater and with a strut he walked around the house. The sweater was so precious to him. He wore it with his rolled up jeans, a white shirt and a certain amount of swagger. He took good care of the sweater and appreciated it for many years.
I honestly can’t remember what I or any of my other siblings received for Christmas that year, but 75 years later I still remember the feeling of the joy of giving that Christmas.
When my brother Robert died a few years ago from cancer, his widow, Emma Lou, sent me a few mementos to remember him by. One of those was the gold letter D from his much loved school sweater that he had treasured his whole life.
Sandra Beecroft Allen, 88, lives in Salt Lake City.