I have such fond memories of Christmases long ago. And it’s funny how at every holiday season something from my childhood comes out of nowhere to the forefront of my mind – things I had long since forgotten that have no relevance in my life today. They put a smile on my face, often at times when I need them most. My childhood wasn’t the easiest easy time in my life. We weren’t poor, but I was the middle child. And as the middle child, I always got my older siblings’ hand-me-downs. Most of my wardrobe came from my sister who was three years older than me. At least, my brother’s castoffs were fun. They mainly consisted of toys and games. I had a blast playing with his Rock’em Sock‘em Robots, race cars, and G.I. Joe action figures. But like the clothes, they weren’t new or just mine – and I was constantly reminded of it. I looked forward to Christmas and my birthday each year because that’s when I could get almost anything I wanted, which was always toys, of course. And they were brand spanking new, never belonging to anyone before me. So every year I thought long and hard about what gifts I wanted. For my ninth birthday, I wanted the most stupendous present a kid could ever ask for – a Schwinn Fair Lady bicycle. But my mother said it was too expensive. Instead, my parents gave me a Beautiful Chrissy Doll whose hair grew and grew and grew. I loved that doll. But I was quickly outgrowing my sister’s old bike and my brother was still using his. So giving up my crusade for the sleek two-wheeler wasn’t an option. It would require some ingenuity, but I just had to get it for Christmas.
Every November we taped our Christmas lists to the refrigerator door. But that year, mine went up in September. To increase my chances of getting the bike, it was the only item I wrote on the list – but it had to be a purple one with a white seat that had pink roses on it. I was particular even then. Every so often, I noticed that my mother had thrown the list away. So I’d write a new one and put it back up on the refrigerator. Eventually, she gave up and left it alone. That’s when I began taping pictures of the purple wonder to my list so my parents could see exactly which one I wanted. I was relentless. But my mother never wavered. Every time I brought the subject up, she said, “We can’t afford it.” In November, when she still hadn’t given in, I decided to take my cause to a higher authority.
During dinner one night, I asked, “Mom, when are we going to see Santa?”
“The day after Thanksgiving,” she said. He always arrived by helicopter at the Beach Shopping Center the day after Thanksgiving. My parents took us every year to see him. But by that time, my two older siblings had stopped going because they said visiting Santa wasn’t ‘cool.’
“Do you think he’ll bring me a bicycle this year?”
“I don’t know. They’re awfully expensive. What if every boy and girl asked Santa to give them something so extravagant? Where would he get all that money?”
“Oh c’mon, Mom. Santa doesn’t buy the toys. His elves make them.”
Frustrated, she said, “Just be quiet and eat your dinner.”
When Thanksgiving Day arrived, I was overjoyed. It was one of my favorite holidays. I got to watch all my favorite TV specials, eat lots of food, and best of all, there was no school. And when dinner was over, the next holiday was fast on my mind. All I could think about was going to the Beach Shopping Center the next day.
We stood outside in the cold air for an hour waiting to see the jolly old man in the red velvet suit. When it was my turn, I ran up to him and blurted out, “All I want is a purple Schwinn Fair Lady bicycle. Can I have it, please?” I was breathless with excitement.
“Ah, very nice,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.” With my Christmas wish delivered personally to Santa, I was escorted back to my parents. It was all very anticlimactic, but I was happy that I got to see the man and tell him what I wanted. I left feeling optimistic, but my mother told me not to get my hopes up. My father remained silent all the way home, which was a good sign. It meant he was deep in thought.
Whenever my mother went shopping at White’s Department Store, she’d take me with her. I was allowed to go to the Toy Department by myself. But during those few weeks before the big day, I went to the Bicycle Department instead and gazed in wonderment at the beautiful bike that I hoped would soon be mine. One day I dragged my mother clear across the store so she could see just how beautiful it was. But she was not amused. She said, “Go to the Toy Department and look for some toys that you’d like to have.” I sulked all the way over to the toys and never mentioned the bike to my mother again. Santa was my only hope. When we got home, I sat down and wrote him an imploring letter and gave it to my mother to mail.
Early Christmas morning I ran into the living room hoping to see a bicycle propped up on its kickstand alongside our beautiful tree. But it wasn’t there. It wasn’t anywhere. And while all my presents were wonderful and fun to play with, I was devastated because I didn’t get the one gift I wanted most.
After opening our gifts, we were told to get ready for church. While it seemed way too early for church, we did as we were told and got ready to go. As I was putting on my coat, my father said, “Lorraine, I left my hat in the car. Would you get it for me, please?”
I ran down the stairs and opened the door into the garage. And there it was – the purple Schwinn, with the white seat and pink flowers, standing in the middle of the garage, waiting for me to ride it. But it was even better than I had hoped. It also had multi-colored tassels hanging from the handlebars, a bell, and a white basket with pink flowers on the front. Inside the basket was a note that read, “Thanks for the letter. Love, Santa.” It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I turned around to run back upstairs to tell my parents what I had found in the garage, but they were standing in the doorway grinning from ear to ear.
“Can I ride it now, Pop? Please?”
“Sure,” he said. “Go ahead.” I rode my new bike up and down the street most of that glorious day, elated, and very thankful.
That Christmas was one of my all-time favorites. Santa was my hero. But it would be the last time I’d go with my parents to see him. By the following year, I too, no longer thought it was cool. I cherished my bike for years. And eventually, the seat, tassels, bell, and basket were replaced as my Fair Lady was handed down to my younger sister who loved it almost as much as I did.
That’s the memory that came flooding back to me last Christmas when I watched my Grand-niece riding her new favorite bicycle up and down the street at my niece’s house. At that moment, I shared her pride and joy, and a memory she will have for the rest of her life.
~ L.M. Lush