life and times
hiram who
birth of the auto
border cities
sports heritage


It Was a Good Christmas... after all

by Tom Pare

From Issue#20- December-January 2001-01

Wide-awake pajama-clad kids climb up and down the sofas and up and off the laps of sleepy parents and grand-parents, who try to sip their coffee and answer questions about Santa at the same time. How did he know? When was he here? Did you see him come? And did you hear him leave?

Some of the kids said that they saw him land on the roof across the street. And they knew it was Santa who brought the gifts because the treats that Mom and Dad left for him were gone, except for a few cake crumbs on his Christmas plate. No one even questioned how the jolly man went all over the world in one night. No one cared. After all, he came here, didn’t he?

While the children revelled in their Christmas morning joy, the grown-ups revisited their own memories of childhood mirthful Yuletides. Except that not all were joyous. Especially the Christmas of ’42.

The 9-year-old boy sat at the kitchen table writing out his list for Santa Claus in this Christmas season of 1942. The worries of the war did not affect him. After all, there were no doubts as to the outcome. Didn’t we have soldiers and bombers and dads to protect us?

It was a time to ask for skates and hockey sticks and gloves and high-top boots with the little pocket that held a scout knife. And surely there would be plenty of room under the tree for military toys like lead-cast soldiers and tanks. All of these presents would sit on the new sled next to the Parcheesi game that seemed to show up each year. There would be fruit-filled stockings and popcorn balls and some coloring books for all.

This year, the young boy wanted boxing gloves so that he could be more like his uncle, who was a professional fighter. And maybe a model war plane like the British Spitfire. Most of all, he wanted a bike. Everyone in his gang had a bike except him. It was embarrassing to always have to ride double with his friend Philip.

There were so many things to be gleaned from the Sears and Eaton catalogues. So many things.

Suddenly, the boy felt a hand on his shoulder. Usually, when his dad wanted to talk, he just called or tapped you on the arm. This time, it was different. His hand rested there, with a bit more pressure than usual. As the boy looked up, his father nodded his head toward the back door.

Together, they went outside and started down the alley, the dad’s hand still resting on the boy’s shoulder. They walked in silence, the boy with hands in pockets, looking up occasionally at the face of his obviously worried father, who had yet to release his hold on the son’s shoulder.

They stopped at the park near the river and sat on a bench in an old band pavilion and the father finally took his hand away. He stared at the floor and nervously placed both hands in his lap, still silent, awkwardly trying to put his troubled thoughts into words. The boy did the same.

"What’s wrong, Dad?" the boy asked.

His father didn’t answer. He cleared his throat and unclasped and clasped his fingers that now seemed to hang futilely between his legs, never looking at his son.

"Dad? What is it?"

Finally, the father thrust his hands into his pockets and turned to the boy.

"This is just between us. Just us. Not your mother. Not your brothers. Just us. Understand?"

"Sure Dad," the boy answered.

"There are things you don’t know about that have to do with our family and this Christmas."

Once again averting his eyes, the father slowly started to tell him the story. About the financial condition. About losing the house. He told him that the family would be split up for a while, but things would be better again soon. He also told him how difficult it was for the boy’s mother. He tried not to say how difficult it was for himself.

He wanted the kids to have a nice Christmas, but this year he didn’t know how to do it.

"I need you to help this year," he said as he stared at his shoes.

"How, Dad?" asked the boy.

"Your mother and I want you all to have a good Christmas, but you’re old enough now and I guess you know that we buy your presents. But your brothers don’t, right? The smaller kids are too young to understand.

"It’s very hard for me to ask this, but could you help me with this year and when I can do better, you can have something special? What I mean is, we won’t be buying anything for you this Christmas.
I guess that’s what I’m trying to say."

The boy looked away in disappointment and tried to understand what his father had just said. No presents? What about the sled? And the boxing gloves? Most of all, he thought of the bike.

"If you can help us this year ... ."

His father stopped in mid-sentence and finally looked straight at his son. For the first time in the boy’s life, he saw a tear in his dad’s eyes.

All at once he understood how difficult it had been for the father to talk about his supposed failures. All at once he realized that he, the son, had been given a real Christmas gift from his dad. Suddenly, he was a part of the whole inner workings of the family. He was included in the decision making.

Along with his dad, he could make this a very nice Christmas for the other three boys. Just him and his dad. He remembered what the father had said about not saying anything to his mother. He surely wouldn’t.

"I am not just a kid anymore," he thought. "I am going to be able to help. Like Dad said, I’ll just wait until next year. I’m sure that we’ll have everything in good shape by then."

He felt good on the way home. Not even a bit disappointed. And Dad seemed different, too. He swung his arms like he usually did when he walked and he didn’t slouch and look at his feet. Every once in a while, the father would reach over and touch the boy’s shoulder. And the boy would glance up at his dad and just smile, and then look straight ahead and swing his arms.

Guys did that when they were feeling good about themselves and other things.

Christmas turned out to be good in 1942. The younger boys got some presents, most of which were requested in their letters that the oldest boy helped them write. He and his mom and dad put the presents under the tree together.

In some ways, the Christmas of ’42 was sad, but in retrospect, the sadness came from growth. A young boy grew up and left forever the innocence of the season. But a remarkable thing happened to his father that shall always be remembered in the boy’s lifetime. In 1942, a troubled man shared his worries with his son and in doing so, he made that Christmas the most memorable of that small boy’s lifetime.

The following year, August of 1943 to be exact, the father tapped his son on the shoulder and motioned for him to come outside. They walked to the corner bus stop and rode across town in silence. When they reached the destination, not known to the son, the father led the boy down the street to an unfamiliar house. His dad told him to wait outside the gate while he went in.

Soon the boy saw his father talking to a person at the door. The father came back to the boy and stood smiling, watching the side entrance. In a few minutes, a man came out pushing a beautiful blue reconditioned bicycle. The father pulled out an old black change purse and gave the man $12. The father and his son walked to the corner together where they waited for the bus to take his dad home.

"Think you can ride it?" asked the father.

"Sure I can, Dad!" the boy answered. "Should I tell Mom?"

"She knows," smiled the dad.

It was a good Christmas, after all.



©1999-2015— Walkerville Publishing — All Rights Reserved