Holidays and especially the Christmas season have always been special to me. My earliest memories of Christmas still bring a warm sensation as I relive those happy times as a child. The excitement and anticipation of unknown gifts was almost too much to bear.
The months leading up to Christmas would often find me, my brother and sister paging through the huge gift catalogs that found their way into our home. We would search item after item to find those things that would represent the ultimate gift for us.
I can remember looking through the section for the watches. So many great choices. Would we rather have gold or silver? What about a leather band or that metal band you could twist into a knot?
After narrowing our favorites down, we would spend some time in the clothing section. There would be pants and dresses of all types. We could pick denim, or khaki or corduroys in an assortment of colors. Next we would have to pick tops to make our imaginary wardrobes complete.
Finally, we’d turn to the best part of this 3” thick catalog; the Toys section. Here in colors so vibrant you would almost become dizzy were the gifts that make life worth living. There were board games of all types, balls in a range of sizes, bats, baseball gloves, jump ropes, darts, life-size punching balloons (guaranteed to pop back up) and even boxing gloves.
As our eyes examined each page with the exactness of today’s CSI agents, we knew that soon we would enter the section of…BICYCLES. In every color of the rainbow and in all sizes. There were bikes for girls and bikes for boys. There were even bikes for kids too small to ride bikes. We could hardly contain our excitement as we pictured ourselves riding around the neighborhood on our new bikes with the cool banana seats.
What launching pads of imagination these pages brought us. We could see ourselves owning these items of pure pleasure and bliss. Even if we couldn’t get everything we wished for just getting some of these items as presents would bring us happiness…forever!
It’s against this backdrop that I relate one of our most memorable Christmases. My mother always made sure that we had a tree with presents for all. I don’t remember how the tree arrived. I can’t begin to imagine how anything was even purchased because during this time we (my mother, sister and brother) lived in the Woodland-Woodhill projects of Cleveland Ohio. No doubt our father contributed to our presents. We never concerned ourselves with such details as to how these items of pure joy would appear. All we focused on was the existence of all of those neatly wrapped boxes.
As kids are prone to do, when our mother was not in eyesight we would carefully and quietly pick up our boxes and with the precision of the world’s finest sculptor we would feel over every inch of our packages, trying to guess what treasures were hidden under these brightly wrapped containers.
This particular Christmas there was one gift that defied all guessing. It was unique in several ways. Because it had all three of our names on it that usually signified a new board game. But this present was different. First, because this box was too small to be a board game. At its longest point it was only about 14 inches. Secondly, it was extremely heavy.
I remember us passing it back and forth to each other. What could this gift be? The best guess we had was that our mother somehow had managed to get us some special, newfangled electronic game. Maybe some new model Atari. Whatever it was, just by its heaviness we knew it was special.
As usual we could hardly sleep Christmas Eve. Christmas finally came. Most things now seem a blur but I remember that my mother made us open that special present last. Amazingly, today I don’t remember any of those other gifts we opened before that special one. I didn’t know it then but that gift would be one that we cherished for years to come and still talk about to this day.
I can remember the expression of motherly pride on my mother’s face as we prepared to open that present. I can picture the paper being ripped off of that heavy special gift. What could it be? Why…it was an….Encyclopedia! Volume 1, with each of our names embossed in gold on the cover. It was both stunning and hilarious to us.
My mother had given us a gift of hope for the future. I’ll never know how she came to that decision because my mother is no longer alive. I can only imagine that she saw the value of knowledge outside of our humble surroundings. Maybe she knew that the way for us to live a life free of our present poverty was contained within the covers of that book. Whatever her reasoning, I can truly say that “Mothers know best”.
Back then we laughed with amazement how far off our clandestine guessing was. It never and I mean never crossed our minds that within that pretty Christmas paper was a book; the symbol of hope.
Sometime after Christmas, perhaps when my mother finished paying for the books, the other volumes were delivered. I’m proud to say that we spent countless hours looking through and reading those encyclopedias.
We kept those books for many years. Though they one day became dated we always kept that first volume that had our names embossed in gold reading: Darlene, Curtis & John. It remained a symbol of our mothers love and devotion to our future happiness.
As you enjoy this Christmas season and perhaps share love in some tangible way, don’t forget that love thinks not only of the joy of today, it also plans for the hope of tomorrow.