Winter Blogfest: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win an Ebook or paperback of The Scarred Santa.


Sinner, Saint, and Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

​My uncle, Roy Sontheimer, was both sinner and saint, a mailman who often delivered food or other necessary items to family members or anyone in need. He liked his beer and drank vast quantities of it each evening. Like the rest of the family, he could out curse a sailor on shore leave. He could be loud, even boisterous, but he had a generous heart.

​In 1972, he filled Santa’s shoes as well. After the meat packing plant where my dad had worked since high school, with time out for this Army service closed, our lives changed. After a stint driving a candy and tobacco delivery truck through northeast Kansas, my dad used his experience to become a United States Department of Agriculture meat inspector. Problem was that the jobs were not anywhere close to my hometown of St. Joseph, MO so we moved to the far southwest corner of the state.

​Until then, I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood with family, including grandparents and cousins within a few blocks. We left behind our vintage brick home and exchanged it for a mobile home in a trailer park.

​The first Christmas away from home loomed. We had a small tree in our new location, but we would return to St. Joe for the holiday. We would stay at Granny’s house, and she didn’t put up a Christmas tree. Old school to the core, Granny decorated but no tree and she was adamant her custom wouldn’t change. We could celebrate the birth of Christ without one.

​Disappointed did not begin to describe my emotional state. My parents warned me not to complain so I didn’t, at least not when anyone could hear me. We arrived late one December night, a few days before Christmas. When we carried our bags upstairs to sleep in the room my father and uncle had shared as boys, a Douglas fir waited. The crisp evergreen scent greeted us, and I danced with delight.

​I thanked Granny for relenting, but she shook her head. “It wasn’t me – your Uncle Roy said those children have to have a tree. He’s the one who brought it here.”

​We joyfully decorated it the next day, but my uncle’s Santa role had not yet ended.

​Granny always gave me one article of clothing plus a color book with a fresh box of crayons. It was enough and I had no complaints.

​On Christmas morning, however, there was more. I received a doll, the expected gifts, and a small paperback Merriam Webster dictionary as well as a folder with notebook paper. At eleven years old, I yearned to become a writer so these were ideal gifts. I rose from the mess of discarded wrapping paper and ribbons to hug my grandmother but again, she shook her head.

​“I asked your uncle to my Christmas shopping and told him what to buy,” she told me. “He brought all that.”

​As an adult, as a much-published author and writer, I still wonder how my insightful uncle knew the right gift for me. I loved the dictionary so much I carried it with me to school every day, used it to learn new words, and language. Although the one he gave me is long gone, I have a facsimile of it resting on my desk. Merriam Webster hasn’t changed their basic design in years.

​In the decades of Christmas gifts since, I’ve received many presents I loved and some I didn’t like but the simple gift of a dictionary for a young girl with dreams of becoming a writer still resonates. It rocks as much now as it ever did.

​That gift symbolizes for me the true spirit of holiday giving. Given from a generous, loving heart, my dictionary became one of my best gifts of all time, thanks to my uncle, sinner, saint, and sometimes Santa Claus.

Once handsome Rafe Sullivan is left scarred, injured, and with PTSD from his Marine Corps service in Afghanistan. Returning to civilian life is far from smooth, and the burn scars on his right side are extensive. Although he lives close to family, he lives a solitary life and changes jobs more often than most people change their socks. A temporary job as Santa at the mall is presented, but Rafe first rebels, then relents. His Santa gig affects his PTSD. Then he meets Sheena Dunmore. When she doesn’t run from his scars or issues, she intrigues him. An unmasking by some rowdy children is a test of his stamina and spirit. His greatest fear is fire. Will Rafe conquer the fear so he can move forward into the new life he desires?


From an early age, Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy scribbled stories, inspired by the books she read, the family tales she heard, and even the conversations she overheard at the beauty shop where her grandmother had a weekly standing appointment. She was the little girl who sat at the feet of the elders and listened.

She spent her early career in broadcast radio, interviewing everyone from politicians to major league baseball players and writing ad copy. In those radio years she began to write short stories and articles, some of which found publication. In 1994 she married Roy Murphy and they had three children, all now grown-up. Lee Ann spent years in the newspaper field as both a journalist and editor and was widowed in 2019.

In late 2020, she hung up her editor’s hat to return to writing fiction. A native of St. Joseph, Missouri, she lives and works in the rugged, mysterious, and beautiful Missouri Ozarks.

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  1. I love this story. What kind things for your uncle to do!

  2. Such a thoughtful thing… I love people who listen and gift things that really mean something. You were lucky to have him!

  3. What a loving memory. What an insightful uncle! Merry Christmas!

  4. Such a sweet story, and what a great uncle!

  5. Oh that was so touching…

  6. Diana Hardt says

    What a wonderful uncle you had. It sounds like a really interesting book. Thank you for sharing. Have a wonderful Christmas!

  7. Your uncle sounds like a wonderful person. Such happy memories!

  8. I had a couple of uncles who would buy us gifts — Tex, Travis, Doug, Steve—and it pains me that I wasn’t able to let them know what it meant to receive a new bike, an evening of fireworks, their love. We all lost each other after my grandparents and my dad died. But knowing their was love afoot — just like you— makes my heart lighter.

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