Column by Hubert D. Osteen Jr.: A Christmas Eve memory and a happy little boy


Editor's note: We present this Christmas classic by Hubert D. Osteen Jr. for your holiday enjoyment. Merry Christmas.

Practically everyone with children has endured Christmas Eve pratfalls while preparing presents and toys for their kids to show the little ones that St. Nick had visited and left behind wondrous gifts.

One of my earliest experiences as a child was the thrill of staying awake most of the night awaiting the arrival of the Jolly Old Elf. I usually fell asleep before his arrival but was nevertheless excited when morning came, and I dashed downstairs to find what could be under the Christmas tree. I was seldom disappointed.

One particular Christmas Eve when I was 8 or 9 years old remains embedded in my mind because it involved my father and a group of his cronies who showed up in the dead of night to help him erect a tent in our yard after I had written Santa Claus and asked him to bring me a tent to play in.

I had fallen asleep as I usually did on Christmas Eve but was awakened by some noises outside my second-floor window overlooking the home of our next-door neighbor, Hugh Stoddard The Elder, father of the noted Sumter physician of the same name.

The noises were coming from a number of men down below who were talking loudly and arguing about how to erect a tent.

They were congregating underneath my bedroom window, which was open, and I could hear them pretty clearly. My young mind was able to understand some curse words coming from the noisy men. I will name some names I remember from that episode: Hugh Stoddard was in the group, along with Clifton G. Brown and R.E. "Beau" Graham, both of whom would become mayors of Sumter. Others who might have been in attendance were Dr. Harry "Hick" Harvin and Joe Ed Davis, my father's partner in the office supply and commercial printing business on West Harvin Street that they founded together known as Osteen-Davis. There may have been others that I can't recall.

Just to set the record straight, the cursing was relatively short-lived. It was followed by raucous laughter from the would-be tent erectors, who began to recognize the absurdity of their situation when the tent didn't cooperate. I would learn years later when I grew older that the erectors prepared for their Christmas Eve project by partaking of some adult beverages at the Stoddard home before making a mess of the tent erection.

On Christmas morning, I examined the tent, which was sloppily put together, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, I appreciated the effort the men had put forth to erect the tent, which kept falling apart every time I tried to use it.

Practically every Christmas Eve since then after I had reached adulthood I stopped by the Stoddard residence to join Hugh and Helen Stoddard and their children in remembering a memorable evening.

By then, I had developed an appreciation of adult beverages but hoisted only a few from time to time with the Stoddards and other guests. Moderation was the order of the day.

The tent from hell was an experience I've never forgotten, just like I've never forgotten the family friends floundering around in our yard trying to make a little boy happy on Christmas Day. They succeeded well beyond my wildest dreams. May those who made it happen rest in peace.