LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Christmas column: The magic they gave me

LaReeca Rucker:
The Clarion-Ledger

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and we had just returned from my grandparents' Christmas dinner/gift exchange next door.

I planted myself on the sofa next to the front door and wasn't budging, despite my parents urging me to go to bed.

It must have been after 10:30 p.m. because I always watched the Santa radar on the local news, but I was stubborn and would not heed their instructions.

After a while of trying to convince me to go to sleep so that visions of sugarplums (or an Atari) would dance through my head, my mother said: “If you're up when Santa comes, he may skip our house, and you won't get any presents.”

Still I refused, until a strong gust of wind loudly blew the front door open and it hit the arm of the sofa where I was sitting.

For a moment, I was sure Santa was about to stomp through the door, see me sitting there, roll his eyes and put my toys back on his sleigh. Needless to say, I did not have to be told to go to bed anymore.

My sister, Lesa, who is nine years older than me, always got things like jewelry and perfume for Christmas, and I just could not understand why anyone would want something like that when they could have telescopes and video games and walkie-talkies and other gadgets.

My friend, Jamie, who lived across the road, got a pair, and we were certain one afternoon that an alien had communicated his name to us via Morse Code on one of them.

My earliest Christmas memory involves getting a Sit ‘N Spin with swirly colors on the seat. Some of the other toys Santa brought over the years were a Dancerella Ballerina Doll that spun when you pushed the crown on its head, a Strawberry Shortcake doll that blew strawberry scented kisses and two “adoption dolls” that resembled Cabbage Patch dolls.

I'm not sure why I didn't get an actual Cabbage Patch doll. Maybe they were too expensive and Santa couldn't afford them, or maybe my mother did not want to be murdered trying to buy one since people were actually strangling each other over the last Cabbage Patch doll in stores that year.

Other toys included: Monchichi monkeys that you could dress up, a Hungry Hippos game featuring four plastic hippos that ate marbles, My Little Ponies, and a plush monster called Zugly with a green head and one eye.

One Christmas, I was sick and in the hospital, so my classmates chipped in and bought me a Star Wars Chewbacca belt that held action figures. I also got a Gamorrean Guard action figure that year — the green, dog-faced aliens that guarded Jabba the Hut's palace in “Return of the Jedi.” And to top it all off, my sister gave me an Ewok Village.

At some point, I guess my belief in Santa's magical abilities prompted me to ask for things that were too expensive, and my mother explained to me that she and my father had to compensate Santa for the gifts I received. Something about that just didn't sound right, but I went along with it.

My belief in Santa began to fade one year, but when another classmate told us a story about how his cousins had heard firecrackers pop in another room, ran to see what the sound was and saw elves scatter away from a big box of candy, my faith was renewed.

One year, Santa dropped some things outside our house. I think it was a toboggan and a pair of socks, but I went outside and looked all around to see if anything else had fallen off his sleigh.

And I remember sleeping with my sister one Christmas. Under the covers and so excited I could burst, we lay quietly listening to the sounds outside her bedroom window.

Some might have thought it was tree limbs brushing against the top of our roof, but Lesa told me to be quiet and really listen because that sound was reindeer hooves.

“If you listen really closely, you can hear their bells,” she said.

And I heard them clearly.


The Journalism Portfolio of LaReeca Rucker