SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
One of the pleasures of being a parent is the chance to discover things you missed as a child the first time. This week, I found a copy of Mark Twain's "A Letter From Santa Claus" that he wrote in 1875 for his 3-year-old daughter, Susie, to see on her pillow Christmas morning.
Santa assures Susie Clemens he read the letter she had scrawled for herself and her baby sister (reading) for although you did not use any characters that are in grown people's alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on Earth and in the twinkling stars use, he wrote. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters. I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself and kissed both of you. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star, a way up in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say, Little Snowflake, for that is the child's name, I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I.
But Santa Clemens says he couldn't make out some words in an adult's hand. (Reading) I took it to be a trunk full of doll's clothes. Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about 9 o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want that trunk to contain. Then when I say goodbye and a Merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens, you must say, goodbye, good old Santa Claus. I thank you very much and please tell that Little Snowflake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here. And every fine night I will look at her star and say, I know somebody up there and like her, too.
It is poignant to read this letter. Susie Clemens was especially close to her father and became a writer, too. But she died of spinal meningitis when she was 24 and left a hole in her father's heart. What you can hear in the words of Mark Twain's Santa is a parent who, in this season and all others, wants to give his child the world. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, he has Santa write to Susie Clemens, leave it there always in memory of my visit. Your loving Santa Claus.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.