"The Rudolph Story"
On 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
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 tell a story...
"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 G~d are strange
and different, they often enjoy the miraculous power to make others
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.
continued Bob, "one Christmas Eve, Santa Claus got his team of
husky reindeer - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen 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 chimneys.
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
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
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
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 his eyes.
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.
In Memory Of Robby
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