|THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS|
|ALMOST AS REMEMBERED|
Christmas was always a happy time in my childhood, presents usually being clothes and books (I was a bookworm) and an occasional toy. Most Christmases are but only a vague memory, blurred by time. But one remains vivid. I was just twelve, and already much involved in making my own spending money by pedaling papers and doing odd jobs. I had a hand-me-down bike, which was good enough for doing my paper route and getting me around the neighborhood, but my greatest desire was for a new Schwinn bicycle. I even had the colors picked out; maroon with cream striping, and a “belly tank” beneath the straddle bar holding a battery operated horn. Of course I would “customize” it with handle grip streamers, and a speedometer (how fast could I make it go down the bridge over the railroad tracks on 92nd street?). A new Schwinn cost a lot of money, which it would take me a long time save up, so I dropped many a hint to Mom and Dad. They did not seem enthusiastic about the idea of buying such an expensive Christmas gift, but there was something in their attitude that gave me hope, and my dreams of road warrior glory amongst my envious buddies, and showing off for the pretty new girl in Sunday School intensified. Intensified to the point of certainty. I wanted it. I deserved it. Surely I would get it. And in the last days before Christmas my curiosity about where it might be hidden, if indeed it did exist at all, became unbearable. I looked in the garage. I looked in the neighbor’s garage. I looked in the basement. No Schwinn. By the day before Christmas my certainty had turned to serious doubt as I redoubled my sleuthing efforts.
One place I had not looked was the attic, whose narrow, cold, winding stairs, in winter usually bedecked with pots and jars of food unable to be fit into our small refrigerator, seemed impossible to negotiate with a full sized bicycle. Then it suddenly occurred to me: there were two of them, Dad and Mom, and mother was as strong as most men. Neither were home. I opened the attic door, and braving the rush of frigid air, negotiated the culinary booby traps and the narrow, twisting steps at the top. The attic was dim, but over there, in the far corner, was... I took a deep breath and stepped forward in awe; a handsome new Schwinn, maroon with cream trim, chrome wheels, whitewall tires and a belly tank. Just then I heard the car in the driveway. Mom and Dad were home. I flew down the stairs, and hurriedly ensconced myself in my usual chair and opened a book. In they came; had they seen the attic light on? Would they know I had snooped? By all appearances they suspected nothing.
Christmas Eve came and went. After lessons and carols at church we always visited my aunt, uncle and cousins down on Milwaukee’s South Side. I went to bed late, feeling guilty about my snooping, but elated with the thought of a new set of wheels. Christmas morning we opened our respective gifts, among which was a new sweater for myself. I tried to retain my composure as I fidgeted and glanced furtively across the room. Finally my Dad looked at me and said, “Son, I need some help with something,” at which point I bolted for the attic door and was halfway up the hazardous stairs when I heard my mother call after me with a chuckle, “You’ve been snooping!”