An only child

In his autobiography, “An Only Child” the Irish writer Frank O’Connor recounts the following story:

One Christmas Santa Claus brought me a toy engine.

As it was the only present I had received, I took it with me to the convent, and played with it on the floor while Mother and “the old nuns” discussed old times.

But a young nun brought us in to see the crib.

When I saw the Holy Child in the manger, I was very distressed because little as I had, he had nothing at all.

For me, it was fresh proof of the incompetence of Santa Claus – an elderly man who hadn’t even remembered to give the Infant Jesus a toy and who should have retired long ago.

I asked the young nun politely if the Holy Child didn’t like toys, and she replied composedly enough:

“Oh, he does, but his mother is too poor to afford them”.

That settled it.

My mother was poor too, but at Christmas, she at least managed to buy me something, even if it was only a box of crayons.

I distinctly remember getting into the crib and putting the engine between his outstretched arms.

I probably showed him how to wind it as well because a small baby like that would not be clever enough to know.

I remember too, the tearful feeling of reckless generosity with which I left him there in the nightly darkness of the chapel, clutching my toy engine to his chest.

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