Returning to my office, a cryptic message awaited. While I had been in a meeting, a woman whose name I recognized stopped by and left something for me at the front desk.
Waiting there was a tiny plastic toy.
Although I’d only seen a glimpse of it once three decades before, I immediately recognized this little motorcycle and the powerful Christmas story it represents.
The tale begins in 1945, mere months after World War II came to a close. It was optimistic time. This country had found its way out of the Great Depression and defined itself as a world power with a victory over the Axis Powers.
Today, we enjoy Bing Crosby’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” as a piece of nostalgia. But it was brand new in 1945 and it’s lyrics reflect the first feeling of prosperity in a generation: “Take a look at the 5 and 10, it’s glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes that glow.”
Christmas was much less commercial and more modest in those days. During the lavish 1960s’ Christmases of my youth, I had a hard time relating to my father’s holiday memories.
He talked about the excitement around having oranges, tangerines and bananas. Fresh fruit and a bit of chocolate were rare holiday treats he cherished.
“And we might only get one little gift,” he said.
Yet when kids returned to school after the holiday break, they excitedly shared stories about Christmas surprises and a North Pole visitor just as they do today.
But in our story, one little girl in Vine Grove didn’t have anything to tell. There were no gifts that year.
Not everyone shared in the slow return of prosperity in the mid-40s and some holidays were quite bleak. A tough season on the farm made it difficult for her loving parents to put food on the table – let alone presents under the tree.
The classmates she thought of as friends didn’t quite understand. Kids can be harsh at times. She was taunted and teased and told that Santa didn’t like her.
She was in her 50s when I first heard the story and you still could see the hurt behind her eyes.
That’s when she reached into her pocket and showed me the toy motorcycle. Wrapped in tissue paper, she held it delicately like a rare jewel.
It seems that one student, having overheard these hurtful exchanges, brought this toy to school the next day and gave it to her.
“It was probably the only gift he had gotten that Christmas,” she said. And I knew she was right because that little boy had grown up to be my Dad.
That act of kindness changed her life. She treasured that motorcycle and all it represented.
I had known her casually all my life. She worked in the grocery where we shopped every week for years. I had no hint of this moment in her life and certainly no whisper of it from my father.
She told me the story in 1992 during visitation before Dad’s funeral. She wanted the memory to be preserved and for his family to know what a great man he was – even at age 7.
Now in her 80s and sorting through a lifetime of possessions, she’s downsizing and asked her daughter to return the toy to our family.
No matter the price, there will be no Christmas gift this year – or any other – as precious as that 75-year-old toy.