Some years ago, there lived in an English city a man whomI shall call Fred Armstrong. He worked in the local post office, where he was called “dead-letter man” because he handled missives whose addresses were faulty or hard to read. He lived in an old house with his little wife and even smaller daughter and tiny son.
After supper he liked to sit in his easy chair and tell his children of his latest exploits in delivering lost letters. He considered himself quite a detective. There was no cloud on his modest horizon. No cloud, that is, until one morning when his little boy suddenly fell ill. Within 48 hours the child was dead.
In his sorrow, Fred Armstrong’s soul grew dim. His wife and their little daughter, Marian, struggled to control their grief, determined to make the best of it. Not so with the father. His life was now a dead letter. In the morning, Fred rose from his bed and went to work like a sleepwalker. He never spoke unless spoken to, and he ate his lunch alone. He sat like a statue at the supper table and went to bed early. Yet, his wife knew that he lay most of the night with his eyes open, staring at the ceiling. As the months passed, his apathy seemed to deepen. His wife told him that such despair was unfair to their lost son and unfair to the living. But nothing that she said seemed to reach him.
It was coming close upon Christmas. One bleak afternoon at work Fred sat on his high stool and moved a new pile of letters under the electric lamp. On the top of the stack was an envelope that was clearly undeliverable. In crude block letters were penciled the words: SANTA CLAUS NORTH POLE. Fred started to throw it away, when some impulse made him pause. He opened the letter and read:
Dear Santa Claus,
We are very sad in our house this year, and I don’t want you to bring me anything. My little brother went to heaven last spring. All I want you to do when you come to our house is to take Brother’s toys to him. I’ll leave them in the corner by the kitchen stove: his hobby horse and train and everything. I know he’ll be lost up in heaven without them, most of all his horse. He always liked riding it so much. So you must take them to him, please. And, you needn’t mind leaving me anything. But, if you could give Daddy something that would make him like he used to be, and make him tell me stories,
I do wish you would. I heard him say to Mommy once that only Eternity could cure him. Could you bring him some of that and I will be your good little girl.
– Love, Marian
That night Fred walked home at a faster gait. In the winter darkness he stood in the dooryard garden for just a moment. Then, he opened the kitchen door. He hugged his wife and asked his little daughter if she was ready to hear a story.