This story relates to: Ernest Edgar Johnson and his granddaughters Alex Huston and Judy Huston

EE Johnson's Christmas Tale

A letter to his granddaughters

Ernest Johnson adored his two granddaughters, Alex and Judy Huston, who called him Grandeepapa, and they adored him. He enjoyed reading to them, and would use different voices for each character in “Brer Rabbit.” He could nearly recite Mark Twain, whose stories he read so often. When reading to his granddaughters, he would often start to laugh uproariously, much to the frustration of the two girls, as he was coming to a part in the story that he found particularly humorous. They would beg him to get on with the reading so that they, too, could share in the laughter.

His granddaughter, Judy, believed that Mark Twain’s stories reminded Ernest of his childhood, or in any case, he could relate to them. She also believed Ernest tried to emulate Twain’s writing style.

As a newspaperman, not only was Ernest a good writer, he was a great story teller. But when he wrote to entertain, he wouldn't necessarily let the facts get in the way of a good story. In his retirement years, he seemed to become more 'liberal' with the facts.

A few days after Christmas in 1936, he wrote—actually he typed as was his custom—a lovely thank-you letter to his 12 and 10 year old granddaughters who lived in Sea Island, Georgia:

Box 482,
Coral Gables, Fla.,
December 27, 1936.

Dear Alex and Judy:-

This, you will see, is a combination letter, one that is to be shared between you. First I must tell you how deeply grateful I am that you two had me in your thoughts when the Great Day came round. You may both be sure that your gifts were not only highly appreciated but came in the very nick of time; for I was in sore need of both pajamas and hankies. I lost no time in putting both gifts to their intended use. If any regret haunted me it was that you should have spent your money on one who is so diffident about Christmas - that is to say, one who finds it pretty much the same as any other day in the calendar.

Looking back over the long stretch of years, my dears, there is a reason for this lack of true Christmas spirit on my part, I suspect. In order to explain my case so you may get an understanding of it, I shall here tell a little story of a Christmas far back in the forgotten years - a true story of a little boy and his older sister and the gifts they drew at the hands of Santa Claus - no, not that benevolent old boy but a limb of Satan who fancied himself as a jokesmith.

The little boy and his sister lived on a farm with their mother. Though she was not over-enthusiastic about Christmas, as is now apparent to me, she still invariably did something to please the children; produced little gifts of trifling worth but of great value to the youthful eyes. The little boy and his sister would find them in the stockings they always hung up on the mantelpiece above the huge fireplace. Christmas Eve was a great event for the youngsters. They had no end of fun climbing up on a chair to hang their thick woolen home-knit stockings where old Mr. Santa Claus would be sure to see them when he clambered down the stone chimney.

That particular year must have been rather a sad one for the mother. The harvest, one may suspect, had failed and she had little money for anything but the absolute necessities - none at all for the trifling gifts the little boy and his sister had found in their stockings in other years, happier years, I think. The mother had a man-of-all-work employed to look after the farm and all the livestock. It was this dumb animal who conceived the idea that it would be great fun to make a jest of the little stockings that hung on the mantelpiece, though he did not confide it to the mother.

At the very first peep of day, long before sunrise, the little boy and his sister were up and just popping with excitement and anticipation of what was in store for them. They could see that the stockings were much bulkier than when they hung them up. Climbing up on a chair they got them down and thrust exploring hands into their depths. They brought up only dirty chunks of coal, dear children! Just think of that! Can you conjure up a more cruel jest to be played on that little boy and girl on a Christmas never to be forgotten?

The piteous wails of the two roused the whole household and soon the mother and the heartless jester were there at the fireside. The four stockings lay on the hearth with the dusty pieces of coal dripping out on the floor, telling the pitiful tale of woe that had befallen the little boy and his sister. Their grief must have wrung the mother’s heart - and even the human animal who had been guilty of the crime must have cringed at what confronted him.

The mother was a mild and gentle person who rarely gave way to moments of passion. But this was more than she was prepared to meet on a snowy Christmas morning. She shot that cruel joker dead in his tracks with the glint in her eyes and gave him a verbal raking that must have scorched the very soul of him. That work well done, she peremptorily dismissed the rogue and made him pack his belongings and quit the house that very morning.

The little boy of that long-vanished Christmas now has the ineffable joy of being the Grandeepapa of the two sweetest little girls to found in all the land. He pauses now to ask them if they can see why he is never very enthusiastic when the Great Day of the year comes rounds. But even this inherited diffidence cannot rob him of the delight he has in the generous gifts of the sparkling little girls and the love he knows they have for him.

Grandee and I unite in deep affection for you both as well as for your good mother and father; and we join in loving wishes that the New Year may bring you only happiness and prosperity.

Ever devotedly,


Published: 16 July 2023. Updated 13 April 2024.

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