In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash Better known as “A Christmas Story”
by Jean Shepherd
It’s December once again. When you flip through TV channels, you’re sure to find three movies: It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story. What started as a low-budget film in 1983 has garnered more and more fans year after year. Many remember the iconic Red Ryder BB gun or the leg lamp, but few know the film was drawn from four of the 15 autobiographical essays in Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (1966).
“Duel in the Snow”
Many young boys dream of owning a BB gun. They receive the firearm as a gift and set out, BB gun and tin soda can in hand, for target practice. In A Christmas Story the unnamed narrator (known in the movie as Ralphie) thinks back to one Christmas season in his childhood. An ad catches his eye. “BOYS! AT LAST YOU CAN OWN AN OFFICIAL RED RYDER CARBINE ACTION 200-SHOT RANGE MODEL AIR RIFLE!” No other Christmas gift will suffice, but what happens when both Mom and the Santa at the local toy store say, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Can they stand in the way of a boy and his rite of passage? Will he open gifts on Christmas Eve night to find a lousy dump truck instead of what he covets most?
“The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message”
Most children today have probably never heard of a radio show called Little Orphan Annie. We return to our narrator rushing home every day at 5:15. The theme song from Little Orphan Annie rasps out of their Crosley Notre Dame Cathedral model radio. As the show closes, a radio announcer booms, “FELLAS AND GALS. GET SET FOR A MEETING OF THE LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE SECRET CIRCLE!” The announcer reveals a secret message that can only be decoded with a gold plastic decoder pin obtained by mailing in the inner seal of an Ovaltine can. You can’t have one when you “live in an oatmeal-eating family.” Call it fate or luck, but our narrator finds a can of Ovaltine. He can finally mail in the silver lining, get the decoder pin, and solve the secret message.
So much changes as you get older. If we aren’t careful, we will forget the wonder of life we had as children. Christmas is filled with wonder – God sending His Son to be born as a baby, and people showing care and compassion to complete strangers. I now see it through the eyes of my daughter. A Christmas Story is one of those books (and movies) that captures the crazy, messed up, wonderful thing we call life. As children we are all Ralphie. We see something we want for Christmas, we ask for it, and sometimes, against all odds, we get it. There are three more essays in the novel, and I suggest you check them out.
Ricky Statham is the director of Oneonta Public Library. Visit the library Monday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., to check out this or another great book.