The upper floor of the department store held wonder and delight for the young children of the city and, especially, for those rural kids whose dreams soared when the family made their yearly trip to the Rike’s to view the wonders of the Christmas season.
In 1939, Robert L. May wrote a poem about an unusual reindeer, one born with a brightly lit nose. So who is this Robert May? Well, he was a copywriter for Montgomery Ward’s catalog division. He was working on creating a story about a character that would be alluring to the masses. Before May had completed his work, his wife died of cancer. Mr. May was left with a daughter the sweet age of four. His boss wanted to relieve him from the burden of the project, but May would not turn it over. He needed that reindeer, much as we all do.
Robert’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the song we all love, which was based on the May poem. Marks is also credited for the songs from the the movie as well as many of our other holiday songs.
Many artists were approached with the song but turned it down. At the urging of his wife, Gene Autry recorded it in 1949. I was two-years-old.
We rode up the escalator heading to the ‘Christmas floor,’ I remember holding a doll that had just come in the mail. She was the daughter of Dick Tracy. Well, you know what I mean. An adored doll and a little girl who was standing with her sister headed up moving stairs to Christmas dreams.
Loren and I began our Christmas TV watching with my all time fav — White Christmas. Then as we scrolled through the Christmas menu, Rudolph popped up. How could we resist!? I had been watching this show since I was a child! It was an old friend come to visit. Perhaps it is age. Perhaps it is fear for the future of my grandchildren. Perhaps, just perhaps, I was really seeing it for the first time. It was not just a show for children. It was not just a show about a man in a red suit and a reindeer with a red nose.
This little movie made for entertainment and children’s delight became so much more. It was about a man raising a daughter alone. It was about losing a wife. It was about rising above the circumstances of living and finding hope and acceptance.
In this day we see prejudice still raising its ugly head. Bullying comes in all forms and seems to be handed down from generation to generation. Instead of reaching out to those who believe differently, who look different, who worship differently, who are of different cultures, who are ill or look different, who have different sexual preferences, who are not what we expect, people seem to lean into criticism, pointing fingers, judging. All these people have ‘red noses’ yet are judged by many.
One of those who was different brought light into the world. It came in a manager from a baby who was Jewish, who was dark of skin and hair, who came from humble beginnings, who dared to be different. We never know when a red-nosed reindeer will come into our midst.
As we stepped off the escalator, we were greeted by a big reindeer, nodding and bearing a lovely red, glowing nose. I was just a tot but already loved that reindeer. I am now an old tot and love him still. Even now, the movie is the No. 1 most watched Christmas movie. It still brings home the message of what love truly means. Remember, there is so much more if we look for it. May your holidays be filled with love, laughter and new beginnings. I send you my love.