The Christmas I Remember Best
“Roy! Come on home. It’s time to eat!” I stuck my head out the front door and called to my little brother who turned 9 in May of that year. I was two years older and wiser than he, and my mother, who had just returned from a last-minute shopping trip with my oldest sister, had assigned me the task of calling him home for dinner.
It was Christmas Eve, 1959, and all 8 of us children were beside ourselves with excitement. As soon as dinner was over we would gather in the living room for the final chapter of Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”. It was my favorite chapter, and one that I had almost memorized through my father’s many readings of it to us every Christmas Eve for as long as I could remember.
As soon as we all joined in chorus to Tiny Tim’s final words, “God bless us, every one!”, we would all jump up and gather up our gifts to each other that had been waiting under the Christmas tree. We’d carry them carefully to the kitchen where we would place them under the stockings that we hung on a wire strung under the kitchen window.
As I went back in the house and closed the front door, I could hear Roy rattling down the street on the old faded blue contraption that passed for a bicycle that had been in our family for eons. It was the family bike, and the only one we had ever owned, to my recollection. My parents had purchased it second or third hand a dozen years before, and it had passed to each of us children as we reached the age where we could learn to ride the huge thing.
It was a full-sized girl’s bike, without a cross bar, and was being held together with chewing gum and baling wire. It had been painted umpteen times during its lifetime, and the seat and wheels and tires and chain and fenders had been replaced so many times that there was probably not a single part that was original to the bike. But it had served us well over the years.
For the past couple of years Roy had let it be known that he wanted a new bike for Christmas. But that’s something every one of us had asked for through the years, and we all knew it would never happen. Though Santa visited us every year and “dumped his bag in our living room”, we knew that our parents had to pay Santa for everything he brought, and somehow there was never quite enough money for a new bike.
This Christmas that was especially true. In fact, it looked as if this Christmas Santa might not even come to our house. My Dad, who was a watchmaker by trade, had shattered his elbow in a sledding accident on New Years’ Day that year, and he had lain in bed with his arm in traction for most of the year. He still was not able to go back to work, and would probably never again be able to work at his trade. My sister, Leone, the oldest child in the family, had dropped out of her first year at the University to go to work full time to help support the family.
Our parents had tried to prepare us for a meager Christmas as the season approached, by talking to us about how thankful we were that our Dad’s arm was healing. And that we should think more about the true meaning of Christmas this year instead of what we wanted Santa to bring us. We knew it would be sparse, and we had prepared ourselves, as well as children can prepare themselves for such a thing. We would be happy with whatever Santa was able to leave us.
We hurried through dinner, and the excitement was running high as Dad finished with Tiny Tim and we had hung our stockings and placed our gifts in neat stacks beneath them. We gathered in the living room for the reading of the Christmas Story from Luke and a rousing chorus of “Silent Night”. Family prayer followed, and my Dad expressed a deep gratitude to Heavenly Father for his goodness to our family through the past year. He wept as he recounted the overwhelming outpouring of love from friends and neighbors as he lay immobilized for so many months. My Dad was Bishop of our Ward, and thanks to his wonderful counselors was able to carry on in that position through it all.
Prayer ended, we hugged and kissed each other, and headed to our beds, where we laid awake whispering and laughing most the night in anticipation of what wonderful surprises the morning might hold for us. Sleep finally overtook me in the wee hours of the morning, but not for long. Before I knew it, my brothers were calling down to Mom and Dad, “Can we get our stockings now?”
Of course, the answer was always a sleepy, “No, go back to bed for a couple of hours!” Every twenty minutes for the next hour the ritual repeated itself, until finally my parents relented and granted us permission to get our stockings. We all jumped out of bed and thundered down the stairs to the kitchen where we found our stockings brimming with nuts and candy and apples and oranges and bananas – and the traditional mini packs of cold cereal that had become a long-awaited Christmas tradition. Christmas morning was the only time we ever got to have cold cereal at our house, and we relished it!
Soon we cleared away the torn wrapping paper and gathered up the chaos of gifts into neat stacks, and prepared to enter the living room where the gifts from Santa awaited us. We lined up according to size, with smallest first, and listened excitedly as we heard Dad through the closed door turning on the Christmas music and Christmas tree lights.
All of a sudden the door flew open and we ran helter skelter into the living room, pushing the little ones in front of us aside, searching for our pile of Santa-borne gifts. But suddenly we all stopped dead in our tracks. Right there in the middle of the living room, in living color, stood a beautiful, shiny, new, bright red bicycle. It had Roy’s name on it, but that didn’t matter to the rest of us. Forgetting our own gifts, we all gathered together around the bicycle, ringing it’s bell and exclaiming our delight. Roy, who had been all but pushed out of the way, was ceremoniously brought forward and carefully wrapped his 9-year-old arms around the bicycle and broke into tears.
None of us noticed the tears that my parents wiped from their eyes. Nor did we see them embrace my sister, Leone, as she wept. And it wasn’t until later in the day that we learned that Leone, arriving home early from work on Christmas Eve, had approached my mother with a Christmas bonus given her by her boss. She wanted to do something special for the family, and asked Mom to accompany her back downtown to the old Salt Lake Hardware store where she had seen the bike on sale. Her bonus check was exactly enough to cover the cost of the bike.
I have enjoyed many joyful, meaningful Christmases since that year of the bike, but none have left such an indelible mark on my heart as seeing the joy in my little brother’s eyes, and feeling the Lord’s spirit in our home as my sister gave so unselfishly of herself. Not just that Christmas day, but through the entire year prior, she had sacrificed her own dreams to provide for her little brothers and sisters.