I remember the Roy Rogers’ gun and holster set like it was yesterday. One Christmas it was a Lionel train. ‘Course, I had to share that with two brothers. It was way too expensive to go to one individual.
The Buck knife was special. It wouldn’t exactly shave the hair off your arm but it sure made you feel “grown up” when you slid it into your front pants pocket. The Gilbert Chemistry Set made mad scientists out of all of us. The Red Ryder BB gun turned us into soldiers.
My parents didn’t bother to wrap the Western Flyer. It was just sitting beside the tree, like a winged Pegasus waiting to take me on all sorts of epic adventures.
I jumped ditches on that bike, raced David Mark to school, rode back to the house with one hand full of groceries… If you looped a ball glove over the handlebars, it would automatically take you to the nearest baseball field.
My favorite Christmas gift ever was a Timex watch. It was shock resistant, anti-magnetic (whatever that meant), sported a red sweep second hand and glowed in the dark. It started a love affair with timepieces that I carry to this day.
It was always about the gift.
Oh, we’d sing “Joy to the World” and “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” at church. Brother L. H. Hatcher would preach his heart out on how Mary and Joseph made that long trek down to Bethlehem to pay some taxes. I remember how “sore afraid” those poor shepherds were on that miraculously “lit-up at night” hillside.
And I did recoil a bit about them having to lay that new baby in a feeding trough.
But mostly I tried to be quiet and look like I was listening… while my mind was under the tree back at the house. We didn’t have visions of sugar plums or care about reindeer rustling around on the roof. We wanted to run our hand over that gift, shake it, smell it, guess what it might could be…
In a cruel sort of Christian way, Mother would read the ENTIRE second chapter of Luke on Christmas morning, BEFORE we were allowed to open the first gift! I mentioned to her several years in a row that Bro. Hatcher had covered all of that just this past Sunday!
The change didn’t come overnight. There was no epiphany. Gabriel didn’t swoop down one evening and lay a hand on my shoulder. I didn’t wake up one morning in December and see a light shining in the woods behind Mr. Archie Moore’s house…
But I got to thinking back on that Red Ryder BB gun. And, for the first time in my life, it wasn’t about me and the gift. I remembered how my older brother would let me shoot first. Leon actually lay down beside me and patiently showed me how to line the front sight with the back notch and aim at the plastic army men standing mutely on the bank across the road.
When I took that Western Flyer for my maiden voyage, Leon ran the first half-mile right beside me with his arms outstretched in case I fell. He spent hours sharpening that Buck knife for me. And I’ll tell you something about Leon and David Mark, the Christmas I got that ten-dollar Timex watch – it cost more than both of their gifts put together!
They didn’t pout, beat me up or seemed to care about the discrepancy in the money. They were happy I got what I wanted. When I look back on it today, that is more special than any gift I ever received!
Mother would give us the ax and let us go to the woods by ourselves to pick out, cut down and drag home a tree. Our collective hearts would soar when she proclaimed it to be “the best Christmas tree she had ever seen” and then she’d spend extra hours decorating so as to cover up the open spaces and bare spots.
The warmth of our hearth and the love of family have lingered way longer than any drum set, toy truck, sweater or box of chocolates.
The special magic of Christmas as a youth is a pittance compared to the special magic of Christmas when you truly understand! I blame my early shortsightedness of this special season on youth. And stupidity! I let Leon die without ever thanking him…
You know what saved my bacon, made things right, opened my eyes – that little baby in the manger! He’s covered my many abject failures and misdeeds like he was born to it.
We’ll pray He helps you too.
Leon, Kesley and David
This article originally appeared on The Star: Hunker Down: From presents to presence