You've heard the name - and often in a disparaging way. But do you know the real story of Ebenezer Scrooge? Few people do. Most people rely on gossip and rumor. In a recent interview with Mr. Scrooge himself, we were able to put some of the rumors to rest.
Ebenezer Scrooge was named, not after a cherished ancestor, but rather after a name read on a tombstone "Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie". His namesake was a corn merchant or "meal man". Ebenezer was born in the early 1800's or as he says "Somewhere in that vicinity. What difference what day or year?"
He is one of two children. His sister, Fan, died after having married and had a son, Ebenezer's nephew Fred. Fred always reminded Scrooge of his sister, and as such often avoided seeing him and his family.
Scrooge attended school and even many decades after graduation remembers telling a visitor "I could walk it blindly". He remembers being the only boy left at the school during the holidays, since he had no real home to go to.
But Scrooge loved his books and spent his holiday time (and all free time) reading. Two of his favorites were "Arabian Nights" and "Robinson Crusoe". He tells this same visitor that he clearly remembers the one year his beloved sister, Fan, came to the school and all but forced him to go home and celebrate the holidays with her.
The highlight of his time in school was meeting a young lady, Belle, who he truly loved. But love was difficult for him. Having grown up in poverty and all but alone, it was hard for him to think frivolously. Belle loved Ebenezer as well, but had a much more positive and happy-go-lucky attitude about life.
Scrooge worked long hours as he kept the books for a man named Fezziwig. "A delightful man, even if he was too full of fancy." He remembers one holiday when Fezziwig closed the shop quite early and decorated for Christmas.
"It was truly grand and although I had a wonderful time I could not help adding up the cost of each decoration and each pastry, meat pie or drink of grog that was consumed. In fact I mentioned to a fellow apprentice, Dick Wilkins, that the merriment might be too extravagant. But, I cannot deny I had a wonderful time that day. A wonderful time."
Belle was at the party, he remembers and of course that made it all the merrier. Ebenezer proposed to Belle and they planned to marry, he loved her that much. But he was forced to make a practical decision and he chose money over love. "At the time it seemed the right thing to do, but I regret it to this day."
A visitor took him to clandestinely see Belle and the man she eventually married. "I was happy to see the lovely Belle happily married. But I cannot deny the pangs of jealousy and regret I felt."
Eventually Scrooge and a partner, Jacob Marley, opened a business together. Their work was mainly banking at the Scrooge and Marley establishment. They loaned money at a very profitable rate of return and neither had any qualms about, what some would say was, gouging the less fortunate.
"I never forced them to take my money. They came to me of their own free will and I accommodated them. I ask you does this make me a bad person or a saint."
His friend and business partner, Jacob, died and left the business all to Scrooge. He never changed the name though, seeing no need to have new signs made. So it was never a surprise, even after Jacob had been dead for seven years, to have someone come in and ask if the had the pleasure of addressing Mr. Marley or Mr. Scrooge.
This was exactly what happened so often that one day when two men soliciting donations for the poor Mr. Scrooge lost his temper. He questioned the men as to why, if the orphanages were indeed full, prisons were not put to use. The solicitor replied that some would rather die than live that way.
"I regret the words I said next, but I cannot deny them. I told the solicitor that those people should go and do it then "and decrease the surplus population." I am ashamed that I said that. A visitor took me to observe, unseen, the Cratchit home and he reminded me of my own words and asked if they applied to Cratchit's young son, lame, young Tiny Tim."
The Cratchit he refers to is his hired help at Scrooge and Marley, Bob Cratchit. Bob is a family man with a number of young children and a beautiful, hard working wife.
Their youngest son, Tim, was born with a disease that left him lame and weak. The Cratchits knew that he would not be with them long. Tim knew too, but he cherished every moment he had and kept a good and positive attitude.
Christmastime was always a hard time for Ebenezer. As a youth he often spent it alone and it was on Christmas Eve that Jacob Marley died. So he admits he was not thrilled with the idea of closing early on Christmas Eve or all day Christmas. "But what could I do? I planned on having Bob make up the time and of course he would be docked for his time off work."
On the seventh anniversary of the death of Marley, Scrooge had an amazing, if not disquieting evening.
"I came home from the office accosted every few feet by people singing or wishing me glad tidings. The worst of all were all the beggars with their hands out. I only wanted to go home. I responded to each of their greeting with a resounding Bah! Humbug!
It was very odd, but when I finally reached home and looked at the knocker on my door the lion head resembled Marley. I had never noticed that before and thought maybe I was just tired. But that was the beginning of my very odd night."
Scrooge remembers making himself some gruel - not sure if it had spoiled yet, but unwilling to throw away food. And then he was off to bed.
"I thought I was being troubled by the gruel. Maybe it was bad after all. But it turned out not to be the gruel at all! I heard chains clanking and moaning. My goodness I had no idea what was happening. And then the strangest thing happened. My partner, my friend, Jacob Marley stood before me and it was he that was making all of the noise."
Scrooge still thought he might be dreaming, but something told him that was not the case. "Just in case it was really him I tried to explain that he was always a good businessman. I asked him why he walked the earth. I clearly remember him telling me that the business of man had nothing to do with money but rather "charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence." I was so surprised to hear my dead partner talk at all - never mind saying things so foreign to him."
But Marley did more than just rebuke Scrooge and his life style. He offered him an opportunity to change his future, but it wasn't going to be easy. Marley promised him visits by three spirits.
He said Scrooge should "expect the first tomorrow when the bell tolls one. Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate."
"Well let me tell you" says Ebenezer. "I swore off gruel right then and there and laid back down thinking it was all over. But danged if the next few nights didn't bring me the strangest visitors one could imagine.
First there was "The Ghost of Christmas past" who takes him on a tour of his old school, shows him his ex-fiance, Belle and his good times with Fezziwig. He is transported back to his bed chamber only to be awoken by the clock striking one once again and this time he was awakened by a huge spirit, well over 8 foot tall. Scrooge learned that he was The Ghost of Christmas Present. He told Scrooge he had over 1800 children. That maybe why some think of him as Father Christmas.
"I found this spirit to be very unsettling even though I must say he was friendly and cheerful. He had two children under his cloak with the names of 'Ignorance' and "Want' and he told me they belonged to mankind."
Scrooge was taken to the home of his nephew, Fred, who had invited him to share Christmas dinner with them. There was a lot of laughter and they were playing games. Scrooge shuddered when he heard Fred's wife say she was just as glad Ebenezer could not make it. He was also taken to the home of his employee, Bob Cratchit, were he saw the family sitting down to a sparse Christmas dinner.
"Oh how I remember the first time I set eyes on Tiny Tim. He had a crutch and the biggest smile ever. He was so happy - and what for? I asked my guide if Tim could be cured but I wasn't comforted by his reply. He made some vague reference to an empty chair.
And then the oddest thing occurred. My man Cratchit lifted a glass and toasted me, the "Founder of the Feast". Can you imagine! Even his wife only agreed to the toast begrudgingly and I can't say I blame her."
And then Scrooge remembers the one thing he will never, ever forget. The young, lame, weak Tim held up his own glass and said "God Bless Us Everyone".
Again Ebenezer is returned to his bed and before he can fall asleep the clock chimes twelve and as it finished yet another visitor, a speechless Specter appears, representing Christmas Future.
"He wouldn't say one word to me" says Scrooge "and I truly did not want to go anywhere with him. Of course, as with my other visitors, the choice was not mine and off we went."
This visitor took Scrooge to a cemetery where he read his own name on the gravestone. He also take shim to see scavengers stealing his belongings including his bed lines, blankets and spoons. He tales him back to the Cratchit house where he sees Mrs. Cratchit sewing.
The son, Peter, was there reading aloud to his mother something about children and Christmas - don't remember exactly what. But it made his mother cry, because Tim was dead."
"I woke up and ran to my window yelling to people in the street to find out what day it was and I was shocked to learn it was Christmas Day and I hadn't lost a single moment. I asked a youngster in the street to go and buy the biggest turkey they had at the butcher shop - I remember it was "twice the size of Tiny Tim". I paid the young lad a pretty petty to have the turkey delivered, anonymously to the Cratchit family."
Scrooge barely remembers getting dressed or going outside. He was so happy to be alive and have a second chance. He remembers greeting everyone on the street with a "Merry Christmas" and not one Bah! Humbug! Came from his mouth.
He went to his nephew Fred's home and they were happy to invite him in and share the holiday feast with him. "Fred wasn't even surprised - he said he knew it would happen one day".
The next day was Boxing Day and Scrooge arrived at his office very early. "Oh I remember I had Bob Cratchit very nervous indeed. I acted as if I was very angry with him for coming in late and for having all day Christmas off. Of course, a few days earlier and this would not have been an act."
Scrooge told Cratchit that he was going to raise his salary and take care of his family and do whatever he could to get medical help for Tim. "He looked at me like I was mad. I think he muttered something about straight jackets, but I was too giddy to listen. I promised him we would have a Christmas punch together and work out details. Good man that Cratchit, I always liked him."
Scrooge learned a lot from what might have been a bit of bad gruel or a true Christmas miracle. But he tells us the source is not important - only the outcome.
Scrooge has kept his word and changed his ugly ways. Yet people still use his name in disgust. If someone is called a Scrooge they are not being complimented. But they should be. Ebenezer Scrooge was a man who lived a lonely, sad life. He was shown the error of his ways and made up for his mistakes a hundred times over.
Maybe being called a Scrooge is not such a bad thing after all.