Friday, December 23, 2016

TOP STORY >> Little girl tells Santa her wish for Christmas

Leader executive editor

This is my perennial Christmas column from 31 years ago.)

When my friend Jack Sallee was with the Jaycees in Fayetteville, they’d put an ad in the paper at Christmastime saying that for $2 you could have Santa come to your place.

There’d be a group of Santas going out every night, and Sallee was among them.

“Each Santa went to about 10 homes a night,” Sallee says. “Each Santa had a driver. Mine was named Larry Nixon. He was a big fellow, and I would tell the kids Larry was driving me around town.”

Usually nothing out of the ordinary happened. Kids got to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas, and Santa gave them lots of candy, and everybody went to bed happy.

But then something different did happen. Sallee says, “One night, we had two houses left to go. We drove around for a while, and, when we found one, it was a one-room house. We went inside, and the house had a dirt floor and hardly any furnishings.”

A young girl was there with her mother. They were as poor as they could be: They had nothing — or very little.

The two Jaycees, college educated and professionals who had seen dozens of nice homes, couldn’t believe what they had walked into.

“There were two cots to sleep on and a table and a chair,” Sallee says. “The house had a potbellied stove. She had one of those small Styrofoam ice chests. So needless to say, I was taken aback because I didn’t think people still lived like that. This was inside the Fayetteville city limits.

“The girl was 7 or 8 years old,” Sallee continues, “and she had long hair and blue eyes. She wore a nightgown that looked like a man’s T-shirt her mother had cut off. She was flabbergasted that Santa Claus would actually visit her.”

He says, “For a Christmas tree, her mother had brought in a branch and put it on the table.”

Her mother had found her Strong Tower Apostolic Ministries, Immanuel Family Worship Center, St. Marks Community Church, Christian Church of Jacksonville, New Commandment Church of God in Christ with additional support from personal donations by local business and residents.

Jacksonville First United Methodist Church will hold two candlelight Christmas Eve services at 4 and 7 p.m. today.

Cabot United Methodist Church is holding services today and Sunday.

Its Christmas Eve services will be at 1:30 p.m. in the sanctuary, and a contemporary candlelight service at 5 p.m. in the Family Life Center, a traditional candlelight service at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary and again at 11 p.m. in the sanctuary.

A nursery will be provided for all services except at 11 p.m.

“Join us Christmas Eve for one of our worship services as we celebrate the birth of Christ. This year Dec. 25 falls on a Sunday. That couldn’t be more fitting or appropriate. We will have one worship experience at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 25. We joyfully extend an invitation to join us in worship in the sanctuary at 1:30 p.m. at Cabot United Methodist Church, 2300 South Pine St. in Cabot on Christmas Day,” according to the announcement.

There are also two Christmas lights drive-through displays that are worth visiting.

Sherwood’s Enchanted Forest Trail of Lights at Sherwood Forest will continue to be open every night until Dec. 30.

The mile-long display features dozens of Christmas decorations with millions of lightbulbs. The entrance this year has been moved from Maryland Avenue to the parking lot of the Sherwood Sports Complex on Bear Paw Road.

The event is free, but donations are welcome.

In Lonoke County, the Christmas Road to Bethlehem annual holiday display in Lonoke County is open through New Year’s Day along Bethlehem Road, off Hwy. 31 North, 11 miles north of Lonoke and 11 miles south of Beebe.

Leading to Bethlehem United Methodist Church at 2540 Bethlehem Road, it features 30 hand-painted scenes and scriptures along the roadside telling the story of Christ’s birth.

According to the announcement, “Since its beginning in 1987 the exhibit has been a popular destination for visitors from all over central Arkansas and beyond at Christmastime.

Many who have visited share memories of driving down Bethlehem Road and reading the Christmas story together with family and friends.

The displays are lighted at night but are also enjoyable for daytime drives.

“You are invited to bring friends, relatives, large groups, church buses, and senior citizen groups to come enjoy the Christmas Road to Bethlehem this Christmas Season,” the announcement concluded.