Uncle Henry

By Gipp Forster

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I would like to tell you a story; a Christmas story; the story of Uncle Henry.

Now, most everyone, at one time or another has had an Uncle Henry, I’m sure. Uncle Henry is the guy who is not a blood relative, is not married, claims to be an adventurer and works at different jobs, if he works at all.

Uncle Henry is a character, not taken too seriously, yet adored and lionized by children. He is a hero to the untried mind: a vagabond to those who know and love him.

He always shows up at unexpected times without calling first, laden down with gifts for everyone. He says he has just dropped in for a moment while on his way to another great adventure. Just to touch base, to say hello.

A week later, he’s still in your living room lounging on a sofa, which has become his bed, watching television and munching on popcorn while waiting for dinner to be served.

One very busy Christmas when Mom was out of sorts, and Dad was pretending it was summer, a terrible thought occurred to them both. What if Uncle Henry shows up? They were bumping into each other as it was. If Uncle Henry were underfoot, confusion would turn to catastrophe. They kept their fingers crossed hoping Uncle Henry was spending Christmas in India or Siberia or Hong Kong.

But they must have forgotten and uncrossed their fingers because on Christmas Eve, as they celebrated their open house with many of their friends, they heard the familiar voice above the din: “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas, just dropped by for a moment.” And there stood Uncle Henry.

It had been a while since his last visit. He had grown a long beard, almost white, which reminded he was no longer young. And not surprising: he was wearing a Santa Claus suit and laden down with gifts. The children squealed, running to him, thinking he was the real thing, while he handed out gifts to overeager hands.

Mom and Dad rolled their eyes a little, gave a soft groan and did their best to welcome the sailor home from the sea, the hunter home from the hill. “How are you, Henry?” they asked.

There came a wink from his merry little eyes. “My name’s not Henry. It’s Nick.” There was a quick chuckle and grin.

“Sorry Henry,” Dad said, “I don’t think the kids heard me. I don’t want to blow your cover.”

Mom said, “We got a new sofa.”

“It’s Nick!” He insisted with a Ho Ho Ho!

“Right,” said Dad, “Nick! How have you been, Nick?”

“Fair to middlin’,” Nick said scratching under his beard.

Mom and Dad had to smile. Henry’s happy twinkling eyes laughed at them, while the same old signet ring remained on his finger as he searched for the itch; the “character” living up to the reputation that harboured him. “You still serving that famous rum punch I like so much?” he asked. Mom, smiling, went to get him one.

Dad said, “I’m really sorry, Henry, I mean Nick, I’m afraid we can’t put you up this time. A lot happening.”

“Oh, I can’t stay. Too much to do. Too many places to go. Too many people to see. I’ll have my toddy and be gone,” he said. “Don’t want to leave the reindeer alone too long.”

Dad chuckled, “You are a piece of work, Henry. You really are.”

The children gathered around him once more, squealing and pulling on his sleeves. With a Ho Ho Ho, he allowed himself to be dragged away.

Mom returned with the toddy, telling Dad how ashamed she felt for treating and thinking of Henry as a bother. After all, it was Christmas, the time of peace on earth, goodwill to men. She would take his toddy to him and apologize. But she couldn’t find him.

Finally, she went outside and saw all the children standing on the lawn looking up. Then she heard the tinkling of harness bells, and as she too looked up, she saw the reindeer, the sleigh and Uncle Henry in his Santa suit.

And though many years and many Christmases came and went, they never saw Uncle Henry again, which left one probing question: Was Uncle Henry Santa Claus or was Santa Claus Uncle Henry? If your Uncle Henry shows up, you might want to ask him that question. Mom and Dad would really like to know.



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