|Cover Story||August 12th, 2010|
Editor’s Note: Why is The Paper running a Christmas story in August? Well, as is fairly well know, we like a good story. To wait till Christmastime to tell this story, to see it get lost among all the other Christmas stories . . . just didn’t feel right. So here you are . . . Claudia Aragon’s Christmas story . . . in August. We’re betting you’ll love it.
My Best Christmas Ever
by Claudia Aragon
When I was a small child, tough times hit our family. Not once, not twice, but numerous times. My father had lost his job back in 1961 due to a layoff. He was unable to find work to sufficiently support his growing family and after losing our home to foreclosure, we relocated to southern California.
I was four at the time, full of wide eyed innocence and promise. After becoming homeless, we settled in Tulare, where I attended kindergarten. When the job picking grapes and working the fields played out, we moved again. This time we moved to a small town named Beaumont, where Dad worked as a mechanic for a car dealership.
With three growing daughters; Robbie (7), me (6), and Geraldine (2), life was a challenge. We grew like weeds and were constantly outgrowing our shoes and clothes. I was about the same size as Robbie, so her clothes didn’t work as hand me downs and all of my clothes were too big for Geraldine.
Even though I knew the importance of new shoes and clothing, somehow the stress and financial burdens my parents faced didn’t quite sink in. Something I can relate to and appreciate now that I’m an adult. As a child I wasn’t able to translate the crankiness to stress or Mom sitting at the table crying to financial woes. We just understood and accepted the fact there wasn’t money for any extras, so we never asked for anything.
My birthday was fast approaching, as well as Christmas with all its promise and I was so excited. My sister Robbie and I knew we couldn’t ask Mom and Dad for any Christmas presents, and that was ok. We understood. We would do the next best thing; we’d ask Santa instead.
Going to see Santa was a family tradition when I was small. Goosebumps and butterflies were my constant companions for days in anticipation of seeing the Big Man . . . Santa. My 6th birthday had been a few days earlier and Robbie and I decided to ask Santa for a bike. Not two bikes, just one and it didn’t have to be pretty or new either, just a bike we could share. We’d also ask for a ball for Geraldine.
My mother had used the last egg in the house to make my birthday cake. With all the love she put into that cake, it was one of the sweetest and most delicious cakes I’ve ever eaten.
My birthday gift was also from my mom. She bundled me up and we went for a walk that night, just the two of us. Holding hands as we walked and talked. One neighborhood was decorated to excess and Mom stopped, bent down, whispering to me as we looked around, “Isn’t it wonderful how everyone decorated for your birthday?” She had a way of making me feel like a million bucks.
“Is there something special you want for Christmas honey?”
I froze, unsure of what to say, because I knew there was no money for presents.
“I’ll just wait and see what I get from Santa. I want to be surprised.”
The big day came. It was time to take our annual trip to J.C. Penney’s to see Santa. Mom dressed us in our best clothes and a warm coat. We waited in line while Mom and Dad shopped. Finally our turn came, Robbie and I went up together hand in hand to sit on Santa’s lap.
“Well, hello young ladies. What do you want for Christmas?”
We had already decided I would be the one to talk to Santa. I couldn’t just say a bike and a ball, oh no, not me, I had to paint the whole picture for Santa, have him walk in my shoes for the moment.
“Well, Santa we’d like a bike. Not two bikes, just one. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Just a bike, one we can share and a ball for the baby to play with. We couldn’t ask Mommy and Daddy, because Daddy lost his job and Mommy used the last egg to make my birthday cake. We knew we could ask you, because you’re Santa and you can do anything.”
To say he was dumbfounded would be an understatement, as Santa looked at his elf and the elf looked back with tear glistened eyes. Unbeknownst to us, Santa was actually a Santa’s helper that happened to be a member of the church Robbie and I attended. In our childish innocence, we left secure with the knowledge Santa would be able to deliver the goods.
On Christmas Eve, we had just hung strings of popcorn on a tree that Dad had cut in the San Bernardino mountains and brought home. A simple tree, but we thought it was magnificent. We were singing Christmas carols when there was a knock on the kitchen door.
When Mom opened the door there were two firemen standing there holding boxes of food. Everything we needed for a perfect Christmas feast and more. Robbie and I were so excited because there was a large pink ball for the baby. We grabbed the ball and ran it over to the baby.
“Merry Christmas to you and your family,” was their greeting.
I remember the pride and happiness in their faces and the tears in their eyes as they handed Mom and Dad the boxes.
“Wait right there girls,” said one of the firemen as he ran to the corner of the house. When he returned he was accompanied by another fireman and they were wheeling a bicycle toward us.
It was glorious, the most beautiful bike I ever saw. It was white with a pink stripe. Robbie and I jumped up and down laughing and crying.
“We asked Santa and we knew he would give us a bike. We knew it. Can we ride the bike Daddy? Please, please can we ride the bike?”
Of course neither of us knew how to ride, but Dad said, “Yes, you can ride, but grab a sweater first.”
Robbie being the oldest went first. I stood and watched intently, so I would know what to do when it was my turn. Dad held the bike, running alongside and then I saw him let go. The bike wobbled to and fro and he would grab it before it fell. I watched as Dad did this four or five times before Robbie was able to ride without assistance.
Then it was my turn. The issue of trust had been thrown out the window, because I knew he would let me go. We would start off just fine, but I kept looking over my shoulder anticipating his betrayal of my trust. Each time I looked back, the bike would go off balance and we would have to start again. Frustrated with me, Dad made me get off the bike and go in the house to get ready for bed.
“Time for bed girls. It’s Christmas Eve. Give us a kiss and scoot off to bed. Don’t forget to say your prayers,” called out Mom.
I obeyed. I went to bed. I just didn’t stay there. When I was sure Robbie was asleep, I opened the window and crawled outside. I was determined to ride the bike. Sneaking quietly around the corner, I grabbed the bike and headed for the driveway.
Once I wheeled the bike to the gravel driveway, I was ready to take my solo flight. After all, how hard could it be if Robbie could do it? I climbed across the frame, began running and jumped on the seat. Before I could get my feet on the pedals I fell, bracing myself with my outstretched hands. The gravel stung so badly as it bit into my flesh.
There was no way I was going to give up. I jumped on the bike again. My second attempt, fairing no better, I slid across the gravel cutting my feet and knees. My fourth attempt I had the misfortune of landing face first, the pain was unbearable, yet I persevered. I was determined to have success. Failure was not an option to me.
Eureka! My fifth try, I had success. I remember riding the bike back and forth the distance of the driveway. I was elated. I had a smile on my face and blood on my cheek, as I slowly wheeled the bike back to the side of the house, then quietly climbed back into my room and into bed.
The next morning we woke and went running toward the backdoor to take turns riding our mutual treasure.
“Whoa. Aren’t you forgetting something girls?”
“Sorry Mommy. Merry Christmas! Can we go ride the bike?” I said.
“Claudia May, come over here. What have you done to your pajamas? They’re torn, dirty and is that blood? You have scratches on your face, feet and hands! What happened? What have you been doing?”
Before I could answer, Dad spoke up.
“I believe I can answer that Mae. I was in the kitchen having a cup of coffee last night and I heard a noise outside the door. When I looked out the window I saw Claudia wheeling the bike over to the driveway.”
“She doesn’t know how to ride. You couldn’t get her to stay up on the bike last night.”
“Well, she kept getting on the bike, falling down and getting back up again until she stayed up. I watched her as she was finally able to ride the bike up and down the driveway. I let her try until she had success.”
“Ok, you can ride the bike but not until after you had breakfast and looked under the tree. And you young lady,” she said looking at me. “You get yourself cleaned up before you go outside.”
“Yes, Mommy,” I said and then ran to the tree. Under the tree were three crystal bells about twelve inches tall and inside of each stood a doll. A beautiful doll with a dress made entirely of ribbons. My dolls dress was made of blue, white and pink ribbons and she had red hair like me.
For so many years the doll stayed encased in the crystal bell, sitting on my dresser, a constant reminder of a loving and giving family. This Christmas I’ll have had the doll for over forty years. To me she’s as beautiful as she was that Christmas so long ago. A Christmas that will live in my heart and I will treasure always as my best Christmas ever.
Editor’s Note: If the name Claudia Aragon rings a bell, it should. She wrote a fascinating story for us a few months back, “Shantytown, USA.” If you’d like to read it, go here: http://thecommunitypaper.com/archive/2010/04_15/index.php
Claudia is an exciting new writer and an outstanding storyteller, capturing the nuances of family life and the difficulties of a hard-scrabble existence she and her family experienced for a number of years. She’s seen some tough times and writes about it crisply, clearly, and with passion. She’s rapidly becoming a favorite.