On a December Night LongOn a December night in Chicago several years ago, a little girl
climbed onto her father's lap and asked a question. It was a simple
question, asked in children's curiosity, yet it had a heart-rending
effect on Robert May.
"Daddy," four-year old Barbara asked, "Why isn't my Mommy just
like everybody else's mommy?"
Bob May stole a glance across his shabby two room apartment. On a
couch lay his young wife, Evelyn, racked with cancer. For two years she
had been bedridden; for two years, all Bob's income and smaller savings
had gone to pay for treatments and medicines.
The terrible ordeal already had shattered two adult lives. Now Bob
suddenly realized the happiness of his growing daughter was also in
jeopardy. As he ran his fingers through Barbara's hair, he prayed for some satisfactory answer to her question.
Bob May knew only too well what it meant to be "different." As a
child he had been weak and delicate. With the innocent cruelty of
children, his playmates had continually goaded the stunted, skinny lad
to tears. Later at Dartmouth, from which he was graduated in 1926, Bob May
was so small that he was always being mistaken for someone's little brother.
Nor was his adult life much happier. Unlike many of his
classmates who floated from college into plush jobs, Bob became a lowly
copy writer for Montgomery Ward, the big Chicago mail order house. Now
at 33 Bob was deep in debt, depressed and sad.
Although Bob did not know it at the time, the answer he gave the
tousled haired child on his lap was to bring him to fame and fortune. It
was also to bring joy to countless thousands of children like his own
Barbara. On that December night in the shabby Chicago apartment,
Bob cradled his little girl's head against his shoulder and began to
"Once upon a time there was a reindeer named Rudolph, the only
reindeer in the world that had a big red nose. Naturally people
called him "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." As Bob went on to tell
about Rudolph, he tried desperately to communicate to Barbara the knowledge that, even though some creatures of God are strange and different, they
often enjoy the miraculous power to make others happy.
Rudolph, Bob explained, was terribly embarrassed by his unique
nose. Other reindeer laughed at him; his mother and father and
sister were mortified too. Even Rudolph wallowed in self pity.
"Well," continued Bob, "one Christmas Eve, Santa Claus got his
team of husky reindeer - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixon ready
for their yearly trip around the world. The entire reindeer community
assembled to cheer these great heroes on their way. But a terrible fog
engulfed the earth that evening, and Santa knew that the mist was so
thick he wouldn't be able to find any chimney.
Suddenly Rudolph appeared, his red nose glowing brighter than
ever. Santa sensed at once that here was the answer to his
perplexing problem. He led Rudolph to the front of the sleigh, fastened
the harness and climbed in. They were off! Rudolph guided Santa safely
to every chimney that night. Rain and fog, snow and sleet; nothing
bothered Rudolph, for his bright nose penetrated the mist like a beacon.
And so it was that Rudolph became the most famous and beloved of
all the reindeer. The huge red nose he once hid in shame
was now the envy of every buck and doe in the reindeer world. Santa
Claus told everyone that Rudolph had saved the day and from that
Christmas, Rudolph has been living serenely and happy."
Little Barbara laughed with glee when her father finished. Every
night she begged him to repeat the tale until finally Bob could rattle
it off in his sleep. Then, at Christmas time he decided to make
the story into a poem like "The Night Before Christmas" and prepare it
in bookish form illustrated with pictures, for Barbara's personal gift.
Night after night, Bob worked on the verses after Barbara had gone to
bed for he was determined his daughter should have a worthwhile gift, even
though he could not afford to buy one...
Then as Bob was about to put the finishing touches on Rudolph,
tragedy struck. Evelyn May died. Bob, his hopes crushed, turned to
Barbara as chief comfort. Yet, despite his grief, he sat at his desk in
the quiet, now lonely apartment, and worked on "Rudolph" with tears in
Shortly after Barbara had cried with joy over his handmade gift
on Christmas morning, Bob was asked to an employee's holiday party at
Montgomery Wards. He didn't want to go, but his office associates
insisted. When Bob finally agreed, he took with him the poem and read it
to the crowd. First the noisy throng listened in laughter and gaiety.
Then they became silent, and at the end, broke into spontaneous
applause. That was in 1938.
By Christmas of 1947, some 6,000,000 copies of the booklet had
been given away or sold, making Rudolph one of the most widely
distributed books in the world. The demand for Rudolph sponsored
products, increased so much in variety and number that educators and
historians predicted Rudolph would come to occupy a permanent place in
the Christmas legend.
Through the years of unhappiness, the tragedy of his wife's death
and his ultimate success with Rudolph, Bob May has captured a sense of
serenity. And as each Christmas rolls around he recalls with
thankfulness the night when his daughter, Barbara's questions inspired
him to write the story.
This is a true story. What it doesn't tell, is that he sold the story to
Wards. As far as I know, to this day, Wards still owns the copyright.
Always remember that God has a reason for everything in this world, what
may look like a tragedy can eventually become great happiness.
Don't forget, use the snow globe to get back home.