I’m not one to hold a grudge, especially at this blessed Christmas time of the year, but I’ve never really forgiven the urban renewal planners who many years ago bulldozed the city’s quaint, picturesque, brick buildings.
Before the demolition, our bustling Main Street was home to many five-and-dime stores – Grants, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, Newberry’s, Williams Brothers and my all-time favorite, the Carl Co. Never mind that the store always had a peculiar, putrid smell and as kids, my brother, three sisters and I would dash in, squeal out “PU!,” plug our noses and race to the back of the store. There, before our bulging eyes, would be the most delicious, unbelievable sight – tiny toys, gadgets and figurines, all spread out on long tables.
“You may each pick out one thing,” instructed Mom and Dad. “Just one,” reiterated Dad. “I’m not made of money, ya know. There’s no Rockefeller in our family tree.”
“But Dad,” we all cried, “those are only the 4-cent tables!”
“Hey kiddos, you do the adding; five kids getting one thing a piece at 4 cents each is what?”
“Twenty cents?” said Michael, who showed an aptitude for math.
“Make that a whopping 20 cents, Mike. In our house, on Daddy’s budget, that’s big bucks, son.”
“And kids,” warned Mom with a wink, “don’t go flaunting your treasures in front of your less fortunate friends whose parents can’t afford such extravagance. Remember, my little darlings, you must always remain grateful and humble.”
Looking back, there was one magical night that mirrored a Norman Rockwell painting. It had to have been a Friday – Dad’s payday –when he and Mom loaded us five kids onto our big sled and pulled us all the way into town. Many years later, they didn’t have the strength to pull out the cotton in an aspirin bottle, but back then, oh, how young and vibrant they were!
It was snowing but there was no biting wind, so everything was still and quiet – until we hit Main Street. Crowds of shoppers were darting in and out of the stores, but many lingered outside to listen to the Christmas music that had been piped out onto the street.
And there on the corner of Market Street and Main was the most magnificent sight ever – the real Santa Claus, waving to passers-by and then stooping over to lift up five little kids, one by one, from their sled, and ask, “And what do you want Santa to bring you?”
The thrill of Santa patting my head and talking to me made the words stick to my tonsils like the snowflakes had clung to my eyelashes. But my brazen sister, Mary Paula, had no trouble speaking up.
“Santa, I want every single 4-cent thing on those back tables in that Carl Co.!” And just when it looked like she was going to be reprimanded by our parents, she quickly added, even though I knew she was lying, “So I can give them to the other less fortunate children. Or,” and this is where she was telling the absolute truth, “I can resell them for five cents a piece.”
The only one with the true Christmas spirit was our sweet little “baby” Beth, a mere 3 years old. From underneath the blanket, she held out in her chubby little hand her once hot hard-boiled egg, one of five that Mom had given each of us to keep our hands warm. “Here, Santa, for you.” It was a loving, selfless gesture that seemed to warm Santa’s heart more than his hands, and it came from a baby. And a baby is what the world received on Christmas Day. It is our heavenly Father’s gift to us.