The Christmas Eve visit from Eunice, the hospice chaplain, left a welcome afterburn. Her Carolinian drawl flavored the recitation of the whimsical poem, “King John’s Christmas” by A.A. Milne, found in his collection, Now We Are Six. (1927). The surprise gift of this slim worn volume enhanced the telling.

Alone later with the book, I mulled over King John’s isolation, loneliness, and overwhelment, exacerbated by the coming of Christmas. Because his subjects disliked him, he sent his own Christmas cards and enjoyed them upon his mantel; then, hitched his brown stocking to it hoping for gifts that never filled it.

Christmas Eve, he climbed to his chimney and posted a long list to Father Christmas with his varied wants, including a big, red, india-rubber ball.

Yet, Christmas morning, his stocking was still empty. He groused:  

And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all …
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

King John’s critical gift did come, after all, not the crackers, candy, chocolates, oranges, nut, and pocketknife of his wants. Play had been long absent in his life, jammed with kingly duties. He only had to follow the play in the ball to enter life.

In my present circumstances, I yearn for the big, red india-rubber ball. It will come in time.