Dakota Datebook

Dr. Grassi…Santa Claus

Friday, December 24, 2004

James Grassick started his career as a physician in Buxton in 1885. Among his many interests were Indian lore and archaeology – you might remember that he once owned the Highgate mastodon that now resides in the ND Heritage Center in Bismarck. He also enjoyed writing, and each year, he put together handsome booklets for his friends for Christmas. In one of these, he wrote of a special Christmas Eve he experienced back in the horse and buggy days. It was after nightfall when the good doctor was called to attend a woman in labor in a remote settler’s home.

“The wind was blowing briskly, the air crisp, the sledding heavy and the snow falling thickly,” he wrote. “It was time for anyone that was out to seek shelter, for everything indicated an approaching storm, and that, for a benighted traveler on a trackless and treeless prairie, was enough to make the bravest think of home, wife and kiddies. But our good Doctor,” he wrote, “was used to such conditions, they were in the line of his calling. He had faced storms before…”

Dr. Grassick soon found the trip tough going. “It was now quite dark,” he wrote, “the stars were hid, and all sense of direction was gone except what could be learned from the wind. The prairie trail was obliterated…”

Grassick thought he finally spotted a light in the distance, but his eyes were playing tricks on him.

“The snow, charged with icy particles came down more thickly,” he wrote, “the biting wind increased in velocity, the cold became more intense and our traveler was beginning to feel its effects in lessened willpower and benumbed sensibilities…”

When Grassick felt himself giving up, he let up on the reins, and his horses instinctively moved toward safety. Finally, they stopped in the shelter of a haystack, and the doctor looked around to get his bearings. When the snow lifted for a few seconds, he made out the dim outline of a sod shanty and made a dash for it. It turned out to be the home of his patient.

Inside, two small children, Betty and Bobbie thought he was Santa Claus and were disappointed he wasn’t bearing presents. Grassick comforted them and went in to see their mother. “As midnight approached,” he wrote, “it became evident that a visit from Santa was a certainty and just as the clock struck twelve a terrific swirl of the wind made the rafters creak and the pane of the little window rattle; but these sounds were only the prattle of tiny feet as Santa’s coursers mounted the roof on their way to the chimney…”
“And within,” he continued, “stood Grandma with her outstretched apron ready to receive the parcel as she had often done before. She evidently was not disappointed for in the fullness of her heart she cried out excitedly, ‘Look here! What is this?’ and there, sure enough in her lap lay two little pink, plump, pulsating parcels.” A boy and a girl.
Grandma had clothing for only one baby, so Dr. Grassick spread his heavy coonskin coat before the fire and wrapped the newborn twins in it. There was no thought of heading back to town.

“The sun came up without a fleck to mar its brightness,” Grassick wrote, “a million diamond points sparkling in its course. Soon the news of Santa’s storm journey, and of the gifts he had left for Betty and Bobbie, were known in the settlement, and they were not long wanting in clothes for the two infants, for the good ladies of the neighborhood soon provided the needful. And the Doctor’s coat was thus released from its mission of Christmas helpfulness.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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