Everyone has a Christmas they look back on that stands out for a wide variety of reasons or circumstances. The one that has been most special to me over the years happened in my Sophomore year of high school. Lots was going on that year. The summer before, we’d finally moved up from the basement and into the finished upstairs of the house my dad had been working on since I was in 6th grade. Girls came on the scene. Elvis was the rage. I had a job mowing greens at the golf course across the road and I’d gotten my first car.
It was a 1946 Chevy. My dad had driven me to countless used car lots in the area. Times were tough in those days and deals were common but my dad was not opposed to driving a hard bargain. Sometimes to the point it was embarrassing for me. More than once I’d heard him emphatically state “I’ll give you …(sometimes half of what the guy was asking)…. and then turn and head out the door only to hear the guy at the counter at the very last minute before the door was closed say, “Wait a minute.” At that point it was deal making time. When the used car salesman said, “OK, I can go down to fifty bucks.” I couldn’t have been more proud. The price painted on the windshield was $90.00.
The fact that the fire department or the state police didn’t catch up with us on the way home was a miracle. The trail of blue smoke left behind was so thick I could barely see my dad in the rear view mirror driving behind me. “You’ll have to fix that,” he said. So with the money saved I began overhauling my first engine. With a pile of ordered parts on the work bench, a book in one hand and my dad’s tools in the other, I plunged into the unknown. To say I learned a lot that summer was an understatement because I had to do it all a second time. Seems I’d put everything back together much too tight for the engine to even turn over with the starter. Feeler gauges were obviously in my dad’s tool box for a reason.
A car to a sixteen year old was like having wings. With two dollars in your pocket you could put in a dollar’s worth of gas, take a girl to a movie and still have enough left for a soda afterwards. More than once, 50 cents was all my friends and I could afford for the gas when we went “cruising” for girls. It also got me to some new hunting areas as well. My dad had hunting and fishing well engrained in me by that time in my life. He’d let me take a week off from school in the Spring to go trout fishing with him and a week in the Fall to go deer hunting. When I finally decided to apply for college a few years later, one of my teachers actually asked me how I was going to be able to take enough time off from my hunting and fishing to spend 4 whole years in college? Needless to say, visiting bait and sporting goods shops and drooling over the new equipment displayed in all the isles was something we did regularly. The new Mitchell Garcia 300 reel came out that year and my dad fondled them at every chance he got. But, who could afford $30 for a fishing reel even if the rod came with it?
So when Christmas finally came around that year, pennies counted. My mom was big on Christmas. Plum puddings were made well in advance and the decorations were up. Cookies, pies and candies were her specialities plus presents. She’d always managed to squirrel away enough grocery money for presents. My sister and I bought what gifts we could. She from her allowance and me from my greens mowing. Socks or a tie for dad or sometimes a fishing lure. Always something nice we thought mom would like and something for each other as well. The brightly wrapped presents that year were already under the tree as Christmas Eve day approached. “Mom, do you think we could get dad that fishing pole and reel he’s been wanting?” When she heard the price she cringed. “How can we afford that?” “Well, I’ve got a little money from this summer. If I had a couple more dollars, I could still drive up to the sport shop and get it back here before dad comes home from work.” Hesitantly, she went to her purse and dug out a few dollars. I was in the Chevy and on my way almost immediately. $30 and some tax later I was speeding for home. The unwrapped Mitchell Garcia 300 reel with its accompanying rod had gotten stuffed behind the couch just as dad walked in the door that afternoon.
Christmas Eve was always the festive part of our Christmases once my sister and I got older. Christmas carols would be playing on the phonograph. Some candles would be lit. We’d have a nice dinner and then everyone would gather in the living room and start exchanging gifts. This particular Christmas, things seemed to drag on forever as the presents were opened. Dad as always thanked us for whatever little things we’d given him. He never expected much and never got much but he was always appreciative. The Mitchell 300 waited patiently behind the couch. Finally it got quite late and just as everyone was about ready to go to bed, I said, “Oh wait, we forgot something” then went and reached behind the couch and pulled out the very rod and reel my dad had fondled so many times and handed it to him. “Here Dad. From all of us.” It was the first time I saw my dad cry.
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