It’s Christmas Eve 1961, and I am eight years old. At my house, the pillaging of presents starts at sunrise tomorrow. My parents won’t allow me to wake them any earlier after last year when I rousted them at 4:30 by banging a metal spoon on the bottom of my mother’s best Faberware pot. It still bears the scars of my greed.
Outside my bedroom window I hear an engine. I can’t see much in the daylight-savings darkness, but I know it’s my dad coming home from work. I hear his tires start up the driveway, then I hear a muffled cry, a crash, and the heart-pounding squeal of metal scraping macadam. That’s when I realize I’d forgotten to take down the badminton net I’d strung across the driveway. Oh, did I mention my dad drives a motorcycle?
Luckily I’d also neglected to close the garage door, so instead of crashing into the wood, Dad slides sideways right into the garage, past his bandsaw, past his drill press and comes to a stop on the rubber mat beside his workbench. When the skidding stops, the cussing starts. I can’t repeat his words because a lightning bolt would strike me dead on the spot.
One tiny slip—like almost killing my father—and my Christmas dreams are shattered. An entire year of brushing my teeth, making my bed, and setting the table, wiped out by one forgetful act. I know Santa, with his strict black-and-white rules—no shades of gray for that man—has already moved my name from the “Nice” to the “Naughty” list and bumped my presents off his sled.
I tell my dad I’m sorry about a hundred times, but there aren’t enough apologies in the world to restore my “Nice” status. Santa puts you on the “Naughty” list if you just once go to bed without brushing your teeth, so I was pretty sure that almost killing my father earned me the top spot on America’s Most Naughty.
My hopes for a new bicycle—a pink Huffy with a wicker basket and a bell on the handlebars—are dashed. Without Santa’s largess, my Christmas haul will be reduced to socks and underwear from my great aunt Dorothy; the one with the moustache. This will be the worst Christmas ever.
My father suffered torn pants, muffler burn, and a scraped knee, and is so mad at me that he spends the night in the garage with the door shut so I can’t see in, but I hear him banging on metal, probably straightening his fender.
On Christmas morning there’s no joy in my heart, no excitement, no reason to spring out of bed, so I let my parents sleep in and they have to come and get me out of bed. They lead me to the living room, turn on the tree lights, and there it sits—my new bicycle! That’s when I realize that last night’s banging was not my father fixing his motorcycle; it was him putting my bike together. I knew this was true because Santa would never forgive me for almost killing him.
But my father did.