The Year I Didn’t Hear the Bell!
I was ten, it was December 1960, and John F. Kennedy was president-elect. In a mock election held in my 5th grade class in November, I voted for Richard Nixon. Pop had his classrooms, too. First, he instructed at Weber State College. But, he, the student, was completing requirements at Utah State University for his Masters. I marvel now, as an adult, at his tenacity.
Dad, a child of the Great Depression, often rehearsed a Christmas tale he experienced as a kid in the early 1930s when my grandparents decorated an ordinary chair, labeling it, “Christmas Tree”. Under that chair he discovered a homemade shirt sewn from flour-sacks and a single orange that were both his. Having survived the Depression, he, like others, was frugal and rather than spend money for a Christmas tree, Pop selected a leafless scrub-oak tree from our yard each year and decorated it. I wonder now, if he chose to do so, or perhaps for economic reasons he felt compelled. Times were hard again; perhaps you understand.
In 1960 we knew nothing of Airpods® or smartphones! We had just left the age of vacuum tubes. Transistors were the thing! Transistors made listening mobile. I wanted a transistor radio for Christmas! I saw it in my mind when closing my eyes. It was black! It had a genuine-leather case! It had a jack with a wire connecting the radio to a single earphone.
On Christmas morning under our leafless tree, Santa had indeed left a transistor radio. But there were issues—there was no genuine-leather case—no earphone—and worst of all… it was RED! I began my sulk. I felt, after all, entitled.
Traditionally, Christmas morning we met for breakfast at my Uncle Ferrel’s home in Syracuse. My Uncle Ferrel was my hero. He had the softest, kindest eyes and yet, he was a man’s man! As I walked into his home that morning, my eyes focused on the floor, he looked me square-on and asked me what Santa had brought. I’m not proud of my response.
“Oh …not that much,” said I, still in my sulk.
Out of the corner of my eye I watched those words STING Papa! I will never forget watching those four, selfish words destroy his countenance. He winced. I’d hurt him! And I sorrow today, because of what I childishly said then.
In the 2004 film “The Polar Express,” only those who recognize the true Spirit of Christmas can hear a certain magical bell. I failed to hear it that cold morning in 1960 but – repentant – have heard it ever since! When the Polar Express screeches to a halt at your house this year, I hope you, like the boy-hero, Chris, hear the bell. Merry Christmas to you all!
I want to thank you, the citizens of this fine city, for all the good things you do, though often not seen or recognized.
“Ingratitude is a crime more despicable than revenge, which is only returning evil for evil, while ingratitude returns evil for good.” -William George Jordan