Gifts Not Toys, Is Christmas Defined
I Remember Well
those lean Christmas Day’s that my family and I celebrated when I was five, and frankly, those holidays were memorable. Even with our cupboard’s not being that full and the same can be said abut my dad’s pockets. Sure, he worked six days in the fields because he loved farming and my mom made our shack a palace worthy of any king to live. I said ‘shack,’ because my dad paid $12.50 a month for rent, and that amount $12.50 can be considered $1200.00 a month in 2019.
I wish that the things that I have mentioned is what this piece is about, but sadly, it is not. The topic goes about as deep as it goes into my soul. Many times I visit those memories today and ache with depression not because of my existence, but my dad and mom’s daily life. I learned to call their daily life nothing more than ‘challenges,’ which in today’s light because of the various needs that they faced and could not afford them. So that leaves my sister and me.
When my sister was 16, she up and married (old folks say) and moved away from us and that is how life was in 1959 when life had a guaranteed code of respect and honor to life and its many forms. And my dad when about his daily chores and thought long and hard about my sister (and his daughter) and how she was faring in her brand-new life. Sure, she had no footprints to walk in, no diagram of how life was supposed to be for her and her and her husband, just the two of them, their love for each other and making do to do with what they had in order to make it through each day.
When I was Seven
another life-altering event happened. And I am talking about us having a Christmas tree. A true-to-my-word, living Christnas tree. Prior to 1953 to 1960, we never knew how it felt to enjoy (a) Christmas tree live or real. On that special day of days, Christmas Day, we just sat around, ate what food we had, talked of what our lives might be on that “great tomorrow,” and went to bed with full stomachs and drowsy heads. That was our Christmas celebration.
At the risk of being patronizing to God, I felt thankful that for a lot of days, we did not have the things that others had, and that was just our life and no blame was levied or harsh words exchanged to anyone who would hear us talk of our plight and how poverty had moved into our front porch and decided to stay a while. By that I mean, when you have just the crusts of bread, a half a glass of milk, and one cup of coffee each morning, that is poverty. Even with the apples that grew on apple trees beside our shack-of-a-home, we ate apple pies, dried apples, and raw apples as if we were living in royalty. We learned that when you are honestly poor, you depend on your imagination to fill in the gaps in your life.
The Special Day That
was Christmas had arrived. When dad turned on our Wizard radio that he bought some years ago from a Western Auto store in Hamilton, Al., we could listen to that one and only radio station that Hamilton had, WERH, 5000 watts of pure Country and Gospel Music, along with the daily obituaries, farm and livestock reports because we lived right in the middle of Farm Country and the Bible Belt of the U.S.A. Pure southern life at its best.
My sister and her husband came over on Christmas Eve in order for her to help our mother with some holiday cooking and what gifts she brought us to wrap—and with the delicious holiday aroma’s floating through our home, I felt as if we were as rich as the banker in Hamilton. Dad and my sister’s husband hit the woods in search of a nice-looking Christmas tree. Nothing else would work for my mom. She despised artificial things and people. For my mom,it had to be real or nothing.
Dad and sister’s husband found the perfect tree. It stood near six-foot tall and was so thick that my dad had to prune out some of the trees right then and there before they hauled it to our home. But when the two did make the trip, we were all so happy because this tree was real. Even the aroma from the fir gave off a wonderful smell that filled our little home. So now we had a fire in the fireplace, food cooking in the kitchen, and now a real Christmas tree standing so tall and regal in a corner of our living room. When we would enter the living room, we were always in so much awe, we stood and showed our appreciation to God Himself for being the Creator, of all things, including real Christmas trees.
From That Christmas in 1959
forward, we all grew and life became a bit easier. My sister’s husband was blessed with a good job in nearby Guin, Ala., at a 3M factory while dad made an agreement to share crop for this woman whose husband had passed away several years before and she needed my dad to plant and harvest the crops for certain amount of the money in October. And with jobs being scarce in 1960, he was glad to take the job and another reason that he liked the job is because the widow woman told us that we could live in the rental home for free because my dad was performing a valuable job for her and us living in that house was a way to show her appreciation to us.
I said all of the preliminaries about our lives in 1959 to 1961 when the feelings of Christmas Day really began to sink into my life and those of my parents, sister, and her husband. In 1961, we all celebrated Christmas Day with a week-off from school and work from my dad to stay with my mom and to just enjoy the lives of each other.
We even had another big, real Christmas tree that we loved. And as the Christmas tree before, somehow we bought several strings of those big Christmas lights in red, blue, and red. Today those are very expensive. And with that one star being on the top of our tree and the big lights, our Christmas decorating was finished.
Mom had almost finished the Christmas baking—the turkey, a couple of pies, a cake, and some delicious crackling bread and of course, the coffee for my dad, mom, and my sister’s husband. I was not allowed to drink coffee at my young age. So all we had to do was sit around and talk about what we were getting and giving gifts for each other and on it went until I was getting tired from the Christmas activity and decided to head to bed.
That was until my dad told me to just stay around for a few minutes. Against the thoughts of my bed that I loved, I stayed up to see what he wanted. And in about five minutes or more, he told me again to go over and check what I had underneath the Christmas tree. I shot like a gun. I saw an apple-red wagon with a big red bow placed in the center of the wagon and I instantly began to yell, who does this belong to? And whose idea was this? To the adults who heard my questions, each laughed like a hyena. Or pack of them. Radio Flyer
New Year’s Day 1962
a new adventure in my life began. I first fell in love with my wagon. When I would sit by it, all types of emotions began to run through me, mostly love for Santa, as my parents told me that it was him who swooped by on that Christmas Day night a few months ago and left me the wagon along with the other gifts for everyone else. My dad got a new pipe and some tobacco, mom received a new dress or two and some new shoes, my sister and her husband got some new cooking utensils and some great work shoes. Santa had really outdid himself this year.
Forgive me for saying this, but all that I cared about was my wagon. I carried it everywhere. And on the many hills we had near our home, well, those became my highways so I could take out my red “car” for a long spin away from our home. And when I wanted to haul something, of course I put it in my wagon and it became a big diesel truck and I made the sounds of a big rig with my mouth. I was so thankful that no anyone was hiding near my wagon and myself to hear and see what an eight-year-old says and plays with. Shocking to some. Surprised to many.
Then when my sister and husband bought a new TV and placed it in the house, I would watch each show intently, especially the private detective shows and I had another vehicle to ride and that being a flashy car that a wise private eye drives while he is on a case. I loved it. I loved having that Radio Flyer wagon a lot more than some eight-year-olds love their dolls and dime store tin cars and trucks.
When my Radio Flyer wagon were alone behind our house, there was no other person anywhere, but me and the wagon. An inseparable duo. And although my wagon could not talk, it found a way to talk to me. It told me on one event to be sure and not put “it” where the rain could get it wet otherwise rust would form and it would get sick. Plus other valuable things that only a Radio Flyer wagon could tell its owner.
I wish that I knew what happened to that wagon as we moved from house to house and work to work, but I guess that I will never know. But I do knew where I parked it each night before my work and the wagon’s workday would be finished. I even said good night to it like it was a living, breathing creature. To me it was.
I suppose that during one of our moves to another home, I forgot where my wagon was and how it became lost. What I did remember was that I cried a long time when I went to bed that night when I discovered that my wagon was lost. But just as mysterious as my Radio Flyer entered my life, it left in much the same way: without parade or fanfare.
But in all of the years since those days of my Radio Flyer and me, I have learned one thing if I have learned one thing. Memories of a Christmas gift or any gift will soon fade and leave our memories, but a gift from the heart forever holds a special place in our hearts.
October 26, 2019___________________________________________________
© 2019 Kenneth Avery