Berry Tramel’s annual Christmas stories: A Depression bonanza & a heartbreaking card

Berry Tramel’s annual Christmas stories: A Depression bonanza & a heartbreaking card

My annual collection of Christmas stories to warm the sporting heart.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 24, 2023, 6:00am CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 24, 2023, 6:00am CST

A Christmas story, 1934: Jerome propped his feet in front of a huge log fire at his father-in-law’s house in Bond, Mississippi. It had been quite a year, and he was waiting on Santa Claus.

“The old fellow is a grand person,” Jerome said. Seemed like he meant Saint Nick, though I guess he could have meant his father-in-law.

“It’s going to be a real Christmas. Everybody is so kind, and this has been the greatest year of my life. We wish everybody a merry Christmas.”

Merry indeed. Some of the Christmas gifts already had arrived. A new speedboat(!). A motion picture camera. A huge radio. Furniture.

Quite a haul at the height of the Depression.

In return, Jerome had arranged a gala day. He and his family were distributing all kinds of fruits and candies to all the kids in town, more than 100 strong, plus baseball bats. 

The sport in 1934 had been awfully good to the Cardinals’ Gas House Gang and Jerome “Dizzy” Dean.

A Christmas story, circa 2000: Kenny’s mother was serious about the Christmas tradition. Before any gifts were opened, the Christmas story would be read, then the Beginner’s Bible video about Jesus’ birth would be played.

Didn’t matter how excited anyone was. Read the story, watch the video.

Even when Kenny became a teenager, and his older brother was pushing 20, Kenny’s mom stood firm.

Her efforts were not in vain. Kenny came to appreciate the meaning of Christmas. And now that he has two daughters himself, a 4-year-old and a 9-month-old, the tradition from those days in Central Texas have been revived.

His oldest daughter’s first Christmas revived the memories.

“It was a great feeling to have her around and have that Christmas spirit,” Kenny said.

He thought of the old house in which he grew up; the only home he knew until he was dang near 20. He thought of the woman who instilled in him the meaning of Christmas.

“Christmas isn’t just about opening gifts and passing gifts around and singing Christmas carols,” Kenny said. “She made it a tradition, that Christmas was about Jesus being born.”

He gets it now. So with family around last year, everyone sat down to hear the Christmas story, and Kenny had the video playing throughout the house.

His mom won’t be in Oklahoma. She’ll be down in Central Texas. But they talked the other night, and Kenny’s mom was thrilled that her granddaughter loves the video and that it’ll be played on Christmas by Kenrich Williams.

A Christmas story 2020: The Christmas card from Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow, arrived in the mail, and the emotions were overwhelming.

“As soon as I saw it, I said, ‘Oh, my God!’” our man said. “And then my wife immediately ran out of the room just crying like crazy.”

The Christmas card triggered the memories of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and his daughter Gianna 11 months earlier.

Kobe’s friend thought of the first anniversary nearing. How it affected the city of Los Angeles and the sport of basketball. He thought of how Kobe had matured in his almost quarter-century in LA.

A photo of the Bryant family hung in our man’s family room. The families had grown close.

He laments how Kobe’s death has prompted his family to retreat out of the spotlight. The big stage is not a place for a tribe that is missing the man who created said stage.

Christmas is supposed to bring joy. The day that card arrived just brought more horror for Jerry West.

A Christmas story, circa 2005: The little guy loved Christmas. He always was bubbling to find out what Santa would bring.

Our man and his two older sisters would be sent upstairs on Christmas Eve. They would sleep in the oldest sister’s room.

But on this Christmas, they hatched a plan. Their house included a landing on the second floor from which you could look down into the living room. Look right down on the Christmas tree.

So the kids turned to surveillance. They sat outside the bedroom and kept an eye out for a visitor.

“We’re going to wait up for Santa,” our man says today. “We’re going to see Santa.”

Santa never was seen, of course, but not because Santa doesn’t exist. Turns out the little guy fell asleep.

With his head between the railings.

Don’t panic. He wasn’t stuck. He just nodded off. With his hand holding the rails and his head dropped looking over the living room.

He was willing to wait, just like he’s been willing to wait to finally quarterback a bowl game. Patience never has been a problem for Alan Bowman.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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