Christmas of 1983 was an interesting one. My youngest brother had been born just a few weeks prior. We had constructed the lower section of our house over the summer. And my dad was recovering from an injury in which he lost two fingers.
The original plan for the house was to get the first two floors done with living space on the first floor and bedrooms on the second. However, when the accident happened, it prevented us from finishing the house. In fact, the first floor wouldn’t have been done before winter if the community hadn’t come together and help “finish” it.
That winter was hard. I was only 8 and all of us kids knew we had to step up and help, not only because dad couldn’t do as much, but neither could mom being extremely pregnant and then later, extremely tired.
All of this culminated into a large amount of stress and yelling as frustrations over sleep and no one having any personal space to retreat too. Mom and dad and the new little brother slept in the living room while me and my two brothers slept in sleeping bags in the dining room.
Christmas morning was always a big thing, but this year, my mother was adamant that if anyone woke her up early, blood was likely. Bodily harm was threatened if she even heard a peep from us before 7 a.m.
So, on Christmas Eve, we settled into our sleeping bags, and listened to the clock tick ever more slowly. Usually after we went to bed, the lights on the Christmas tree were unplugged and we were plunged into darkness, but his night, dad left them on.
The lights twinkled a dazzling display across the walls and ceiling, and if I pulled myself out from under the table, I could watch the tree. I fell asleep like that until I heard dad get up at some point to stoke the wood fire.
I rolled over to look at the green luminescent hands on the clock that mom had placed on the floor as a reminder that we couldn’t get up until 7. It was just after midnight, so I rolled over and closed my eye’s tight, willing it to be morning.
Then dad started moving around the tree. I could hear paper rattling as he moved presents and could see his headlamp as he sat in his chair to assemble some things we were getting in the morning.
I was so curious and wanted to move. I’m sure I did a few times, but every time dad’s light swept toward me, I clinched my eyes shut and faked being asleep.
The beeps and whirs and flashing lights were all too much. I wanted to jump up and see what my dad was doing, but I didn’t dare invoke the wrath of mom and the very real possibility of Christmas being cancelled.
I watched as dad lay on the floor next to the tree to move presents around and to set up some things. I tried not to watch. I willed myself to fall asleep. But it was no use.
I opened my eyes to the sound of whirring and tilted my head over just enough to see two little lights aimed at me in the darkness. The whirring grew louder as the little lights drew nearer. In the backlight of the tree, I could see the lights and sound was coming from a little battery operated truck. It steadily approached and I wanted to reach out and grab it, but I didn’t dare move.
The truck was nearly to me when I looked beyond it and saw a second pair of lights coming at me. While the first one was now obviously going to go by me, this one was coming right at me. It was moving so slowly that I didn’t need to worry about it hurting, but I was conflicted on how to act.
The first truck whirred past my head and I tried to keep my eye on it. When I looked back, dad was walking towards me. I tried to close my eyes and even faked a snore as dad padded quietly past me and retrieved the little truck that was now spinning its wheels against the wall.
He picked it up and I kept my eyes closed tight as he padded over and picked up the second truck right before it hit me. I listened as the whirring stopped on both trucks, but my dad didn’t walk away.
Then the whirring began again as dad set one of the trucks on my chest and I felt it rolling along.
“Shhhhh,” he whispered as he set the second truck next to me. “Don’t wake your mom.”
In the light of the tree I could see his eyes twinkle as he winked at me and wandered off, leaving me the two trucks.
I played for nearly an hour, letting the trucks drive across my sleeping bag, acting as if there were valleys and ridges. My brother and I passed them back and forth for a while before I finally did tire and set the trucks by my head and drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up, the clock glowed 6:15. My trucks were gone, but stockings were lying in their place. My oldest brother was already awake and playing a battery operated game inside his sleeping bag to muffle the noise.
I found a flashlight tucked into the top of my stocking and went through it quietly until I heard my youngest brother waking up with a scream. I heard mom and dad talking. As I heard footsteps approach, I closed my eyes, though I knew that I wouldn’t be fooling anyone since I was clutching my stocking.
True to our word, all three of us boys laid there until the clock settled on 7, then we were up and doing our chores before breakfast. A peek under the tree revealed my two trucks posed as if they were rock climbing over another present.
I don’t remember anything else that I got that year, but those two trucks always bring about thoughts of happiness and joy.