I find that the older I get, the more distant those childhood memories of Christmas become. Thankfully, with modern or semi-modern technology, we can look back at old home movies and family photo albums and relive those days. I say “semi-modern” because I think my parents bought the very first movie camera. It did not have sound and to work in-doors, the user had to attach a special light bar to the top of it. If you look at all the home videos from when I was a kid, you will notice that I was always squinting. These lights were at least a million candle power each and it was like staring at the sun as my mom would say “Look at the camera. Smile and wave!” I was the only kid who went back to school after the holidays with a Christmas tan.
One of the best Christmas gifts that I ever received was a go-cart. It was kind of a metallic purple color but this was the ’70’s so it fit right in. Now it was clear that this go-cart had already been around the block a time or two, literally, but I did not care. Most people’s first car is used. I was thrilled to have a used go-cart. It was mine and I was going to race around the neighborhood like my hero, Speed Racer. For those who remember Speed Racer, you also remember all the cool things that his car could do, jump, fly, go underwater, etc. My go-cart could not do any of those things. I don’t think I did it any favors when I tried to jump the ramps that we had set up in the street for our bikes. The go-cart did not really jump the ramp. It just went up it and dropped off the end. Fortunately, the ramp was only about two feet high so I did not pull an Evel Knievel and break every bone in my body. I just smashed my privates against the steering wheel.
The beginning of the end for my go-cart came when I thought I could drive it between two trees in the backyard. I should have got a measuring tape out first. The rear wheels both caught on a tree and bent the rear axle. Thankfully, as an adult, the Gwinnett County Police Department let me use a police car for almost thirty years so I could drive fast and pretend that I was Speed Racer.
One of the earliest Christmas memories that I have is also one of the most vivid. I must not have been any older than five or six years old. This particular Christmas, we were celebrating with my father’s parents in the tiny town of Salemburg, North Carolina. On Christmas Eve, I was beside myself with excitement. I could not wait until the next morning to see what Santa might bring me. Maybe, if I was lucky, I could stay awake and catch the old fat man in red in the act of dropping off my presents.
But, like children through the ages, my quest to stay awake and catch Santa did not work. I fell fast asleep. The next thing that I remember, though, was my dad waking me up the next morning and saying, “You better wake up. I think Santa just came by,” At that moment, from the living room, I heard a loud, deep, “Ho, ho, ho,” and then the sound of a door shutting. My grandparents did not have a fireplace so Santa had to pick the lock of the front door.
I felt the rush of adrenaline through my young body. I jumped out of bed. “If I hurry, I can catch him in the yard before he takes off,” I thought. I started running towards the front door. As I was approaching the door, I started having second thoughts. “What if Santa doesn’t want to be caught? He might not appreciate me trying to see him as he makes his escape. Maybe some things are just better left alone.” I turned around and quickly focused my attention on the presents under the big Christmas tree. I never heard my grandfather quietly slipping in the back door and then joining us for the morning’s festivities.
What is your most vivid childhood memory of Christmas? I would love to hear it!
If you would like to help us have an impact in the US, Africa, India, and South America, here is the link. Obrigado (Thank you!) and Feliz Natal! (Merry Christmas!)