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Tramel: Christmas stories to warm the heart

The Capitol is reflected in a giant red ball on the Christmas Tree shines on the south steps of the Capitol, Monday, November 23, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
The Capitol is reflected in a giant red ball on the Christmas Tree shines on the south steps of the Capitol, Monday, November 23, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

A Christmas story, 1970: On Christmas Eve, Dennis Bradshaw was on his way home from Vietnam. At the San Francisco airport, he was met by protestors who cursed and spit at him.

Bradshaw made it to Chicago and boarded a plane for Tulsa. After takeoff, a flight attendant stopped by and said a passenger in first class wanted Bradshaw to join him.

Bradshaw sat with his new friend and explained his story. Bradshaw’s parents lived in Noble, but he couldn’t get a flight to Oklahoma City, so he was headed to Tulsa, where his sister and brother-in-law lived, but they didn’t know he was coming and might be in Noble themselves.

The stranger said he and his wife would drive Bradshaw to his sister’s house, and if she was not home, Bradshaw was to come home with them and they would drive him to Noble on Christmas Day.

Cars were in abundance at Bradshaw’s sister’s house, and after hugging and thanking his new friends, Bradshaw went on to a glorious and tearful reunion with his family.

Bradshaw’s faith in humanity was restored, even when he returned to Vietnam after New Year’s, courtesy of a stranger on a plane.

The man who felt an affinity for a traveler in uniform was a World War II veteran. Warren Spahn.

A Christmas story, 1981: His daughter was two years old, living in Tennessee, while he tried to revive his career in Miami. The father promised the daughter he’d be home for Christmas. “Daddy has some Christmas surprises for you. Daddy loves you very much.”

Daddy didn’t make it home for Christmas. He was smoking cocaine in a hotel room.

He always considered that little girl the best friend he ever would know. He thought about the joy that would come from sharing Christmas with her.

But the pull of addiction was stronger than the pull of the daughter. He hung up the phone after that promise and continued to freebase.

Our man eventually got sober. Eventually started keeping his promises to his daughter. But the memory of that phone call to Tennessee, lying to his 2-year-old all those decades ago, stays with Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson.

A Christmas story, circa 1940: The boy loved to sing. His family, in the Bronx suburb of Mount Vernon, New York, lived a homebody existence. Twelve siblings, two parents, a grandfather.

Work, school, sports, church. That was their life. A good time on a Saturday night was singing songs around the fireplace.

The entire family could sing, but our man was especially talented. He liked to say he had bottom and range. He loved to belt it out.

At Christmas time, he was a committed caroler around the Mount Vernon neighborhoods. Later on, he even toyed with a career in show business.

But baseball got in the way. He tried out for the teams next door to Mount Vernon, the Giants and the Yankees, but eventually was signed by the Dodgers, in faraway Brooklyn, a borough he never had even visited.

That family strength, those glorious bonds of simple times, came in handy when fate made the Christmas caroler a household name for all the wrong reasons. Being on the wrong side of “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” didn’t deter Ralph Branca.

A Christmas story, circa 1970s: The college basketball star’s eligibility was up. He stuck around campus to finish a couple of courses so he could graduate.

But when it came time for the player to return to his native Kentucky, he had no money for the bus trip. His coach gave him $30 so the player could get home.

Fast forward a few years, and the coach was recruiting in Kentucky and made connection with his former player. The player could not talk about anything else except that $30.

The player had become a teacher, and after the coach returned to Oklahoma, he received a letter with a $30 check.

“Sorry I am just now writing. I made a debt and said I would pay it back. Here it is.”

The coach, not a sentimental sort, got a little misty-eyed reading the letter.

That December, the coach wrote a letter to the player’s 3-year-old daughter, Annetta Lynn. “I know little girls have a hard time getting money around Christmas. I have little girls of my own and know how much extra expense there is at Christmas. So here’s $30 for you to buy your mommy and daddy something for Christmas.”

Charlie “Big Game” Hunter obviously made quite the impression on Abe Lemons.

Merry Christmas.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›