Happy Birthday — O. Henry

September 11 was the birthday of William Sydney Porter, better know by his pen name O. Henry. Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, 1862, he is my favorite short-story writer, and his personal life was quite a story in itself. His birthday was remembered in The Writer’s Almanac of September 11, 2019 —

As a young man living in Texas, he was convicted of embezzlement and sent to federal prison. While he was there, he began to write and publish short stories, which a friend in New Orleans would forward to publishers, so that no one would know the author was writing from prison. When he got out after three years, he told his young daughter he had been away on business and resumed a respectable life. It wasn’t until after his death that the public learned that O. Henry, the famous author of more than 300 short stories, had gotten his start in prison.

Perhaps his two best-known tales are “The Ransom of Red Chief” and “The Gift of the Magi.” Returning to The Writer’s Almanac entry —

“The Ransom of Red Chief” is the story of two small-time crooks — Bill and Sam — who kidnap a wealthy young boy from Alabama. They plan to raise $2,000 in ransom money and continue on the road to their next scheme. Unfortunately, red-haired young Johnny is not what they expect. He refers to himself as Red Chief and considers his kidnapping a fabulous wilderness adventure, far superior to attending school and having to interact with girls. He threatens to scalp Bill and burn Sam at the stake, forces Bill to act like a horse so he can ride him, and generally makes their lives miserable. The crooks revise their ransom down to $1,500. Johnny’s father responds that he will not pay the ransom fee; furthermore, he will only take Johnny back if the men pay him $250 and bring the boy in the dead of night so that the neighbors won’t be disappointed to see the youngster return home. The desperate men take Johnny straight to his father. The boy throws a fit at having to leave his captors, while they drive away as fast as they can, heading toward Canada.

“The Gift of the Magi” is the story of a young married couple, Jim and Della. Della’s pride and joy is her beautiful long hair, while Jim’s prized possession is his grandfather’s gold watch. They don’t have much money, but each is determined to get the other a meaningful Christmas gift. Jim ends up selling his watch to buy his wife combs for her hair; at the same time, Della sells her hair for enough money to buy her husband a fob chain for his watch.

I just wish I wrote like that!

Taken from The Writer’s Almanac of September 11, 2019 (https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-writers-almanac?).

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