In any family, there are Christmases that stand out—for one reason or another. Often, due to a mishap, a sadness, or sometimes, even a tragedy. I am relating the story of my son’s Christmas bike in this post; certainly a Christmas that my two daughters will always remember. At age 37, our Tim died—an age that was way too young. But then, any age that a son dies is way too young for a mother. Tim loved Christmas; he loved lights and trees with crystal ornaments. Even as a young child, he delighted in a tacky set of outdoor lights that spelled out Merry Christmas. My daughters saved those lights and put them up for him in the last years that he lived. However, the one Christmas they likely remember is one I’m telling in Tim’s own voice:
Our family piled into the car for a short drive from Mam-ma Polly’s home in the countryside to our house in town. We always spent Christmas Eve at Mam-ma’s house. In the backseat, wedged between my two sisters, I clutched my new tape recorder—a gift from Mam-ma and Pap-pa—in one hand and balanced a stack of boxes with other presents like pajamas and shirts on my lap. Apples and oranges bulged in my Christmas stocking. Christmas Eve is the best night of the year, I thought to myself. The end of secrets planned by Mam-ma and Christmas Day still ahead. I snuggled in my furry red coat and thought about the mountain of packages under our tree, wrapped and waiting to be opened. I was sure Mom and Dad had a new bike for me because Dad had let me pick out one I liked at the store. My sisters’ chatter and Mom’s answers tuned out of my head as I imagined whizzing around our block on my shiny new blue bicycle.
We drove into our driveway and bounced into the house, each with Christmas treasures under our arms. I headed for my room to talk into my new recorder. Suzanne knocked on my door and asked: ‘’Could we use your recorder first?”
“Oh, I guess,” I answered, but I hoped they would hurry up. I put away my shirts and the new tooth brush that Mam-ma always put in my stocking. And then, I put on my new pajamas.
Mom called out, “You kids better get ready for bed if you expect Santa to come!”
I banged on the door to my sisters’ room and yelled: “I want my recorder back now!” I heard giggles as Debbie cracked the door and handed me the recorder. “We taped a story for you, Tim,” she said.
I trudged back to my room and settled in my bed. Mom came in to tuck the quilt under my chin and turn off the light. I shoved the recorder under my pillow, and pressed the button to PLAY. Suzanne’s voice came from the black box. “Now, Timmy, we don’t want you to be disappointed, but Mom and Dad didn’t have enough money to buy you that bicycle. Please do not let them know you are sad on Christmas morning. They feel bad that they could not get it for you.”
Next, Debbie said: “You understand, Tim, that Suzanne wanted a wig, and it cost a lot of money. After Mom and Dad bought that and the lighted make-up mirror that I want, there just wasn’t enough money left for your bike. But your little bicycle will last a while longer. Besides, you’ll get some other nice presents.”
I pushed the STOP button before her words ended. A lump rose in my throat. Hot tears stung my cheeks and fell on my pillow. Not get my bicycle? They knew the tires on my old bike wobbled and the seat was rusted. Girls! They think they’re so smart in wigs and make-up! I’ll just yank that wig off!
The tears dripped off my chin. My nose stuffed up and I couldn’t breathe. I thought about my black hand-me-down bike that Dad had pieced together from three old bicycles. It didn’t even have a back fender! Mud splattered on my shirt when I rode it. Not get my shiny blue bike? All the warm fuzzy thoughts about Christmas Eve knotted into a giant tummy ache.
Sleep finally came on my tear-soaked pillow. The next thing I knew my sisters were shaking me and saying, “Get up Timmy! It’s Christmas morning!” I jumped out of bed, excitement bubbling inside me—and then I remembered. No bicycle. I dawdled with my robe and slippers. Suzanne came back to grab my hand and pull me to the living room. Debbie was dancing around the tree, turning on the lights. Mom and Dad were smiling. I felt as though a big rock had dropped inside my chest. Silly sisters! They were shaking packages and squealing like piglets! And giggling. Always giggling.
Mom noticed my long face. She cupped my chin in her hands. “Come look,” she said as she went to the patio door and pulled open the drapes.
So what, I thought with a sigh. I had already looked around the Christmas tree. Sure enough, no bicycle. Only Suzanne trying on that ugly wig! The swish of the drapes stopped my angry thoughts. There on the patio was the most beautiful shiny, blue bicycle I had ever seen! Mom watched my surprised face and as she said, “It didn’t fit under the tree, so Dad put it on the patio.”
Then my sisters were hugging me and saying, “We’re sorry, Tim. We didn’t mean to make you cry.” Mom and Dad looked puzzled.
Debbie’s words tumbled out: “We thought it would be a funny joke to make Timmy think he wasn’t getting a bicycle.”
“But then,” Suzanne chimed in. “We heard him crying and we were sorry. But we didn’t know how to make him believe it was a joke.”
Mom and dad both looked sharply at them, but soon everybody was ripping red and green paper off packages and laughing and saying, “…just what I wanted!” I hurried to put on warm clothes so I could go out and whizz block like a blue streak around our block.”
Many Christmases followed that one when Tim thought he had no bike as his gift. He never yanked off Suzanne’s wig, but a boy in her class did. She did not wear it again. Debbie lit up her dresser with the make-up mirror, and stood before it each school day as she made her young face ready for junior high—until the bulbs burned out. But Tim rode that blue bicycle every day until at age sixteen, he traded two worn-out wheels for four shiny new ones on a sunshine yellow truck.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com