It is that time of year again when I digress from my normal writings in my weekly column to again tell you a story. It is a story of hope, faith, and resolution; a story that lives in my memory of a past event, which happened long ago in 1951.
Take a journey back in time with me to a place of innocent childhood. The year is 1951. The place is Spokane, Washington.
The date and time is one week before Christmas, at seven o’clock in the morning. The person in the story is named Eddie, and he is eleven years old.
Eddie awoke suddenly from his dreams of adventure to start a new day; the first day of the Christmas vacation. As he looked out of the bedroom window, he noticed a new blanket of snow that had been laid down during the night.
The snowplows were busy clearing the snow from his street; Dalton Street.
He arose and put on his clothes, his boots, and grabbing his coat, mittens and snow hat; he scurried downstairs. He was very quiet, as he knew his mother would be asleep on the sofa-bed in the living area after returning home from her evening work shift. He looked over to the other side of the bedroom and saw his little sister Susie was still asleep.
Entering the kitchenette, he went to the refrigerator and took out the milk for his cereal. He then poured some shredded wheat into a bowl with the milk and ate his breakfast.
His thoughts were racing as he ate his breakfast, “No school today,” he thought, “I’ll just do my chores and take the bus downtown.” Eddie liked to ride the bus downtown, to window shop, or perhaps go to a matinee movie when he had the money. He checked his pockets. He had a little more than one dollar in change that he had got for refund on bottles at the store yesterday and shoveling snow off neighbors sidewalks, and 5 bus tokens.
“A lot of money,” he thought, “I may even have a hamburger and shake for lunch, and then go to a movie.” Eddie always had at least a dollar in change, his earnings from turning in bottles, shoveling walks of snow in the neighborhood, or other odd jobs. He made a mental note to make sure he had enough money to go to the grocers for bread and milk after his sojourn from home.
After eating, Eddie put on his coat, hat, and mittens and went outside.
The snow glistened on the branches of the trees, and blanketed all of the yards in the neighborhood. Picking up the snow shovel, Eddie cleaned off the sidewalk to the street. His mother had left him a note as she usually did; something from the store, or other tasks she wanted done. She knew that he was not going to school today, and she would have a chance to talk with him in the afternoon before going to work.
“Today is all mine,” he thought. He had just finished cleaning the sidewalk when the housekeeper, Olga, was coming up to the house. Eddie told her, “Mom and Susie are still asleep, and Mom did not leave a note for you or me. I have finished my chores and am going to take a bus downtown now. I have something special to do.” Olga replied, in her deep Swedish accent, “All right then. I will get Susie up and dressed then clean up the house quietly.”
Now Eddie and his mother by today’s standards would be considered living in poverty. This was an era of productivity; everyone worked, and Eddie never considered himself poor. His mom worked 10 to 12 hours in the evenings preparing baked goods and salads in a hotel restaurant downtown. She earned just enough money to pay the rent, the utilities, for some clothing, and food; and to pay for a housekeeper, Olga, who looked after Eddies little sister Susie. Working in the restaurant had its benefits, mainly being permitting her to take left over food home.
Few people looked down on Eddie and his family, as they knew they were doing the best they could. Eddie did not receive an “allowance,” he knew he had to work to receive money, and that never bothered him as there was always an honest way to make money; mowing lawns in the spring and summer, raking leaves in the fall, shoveling walks in the winter, collecting bottles for refunds, etc.
Eddie left the house and walked a block away to the bus stop on Monroe Avenue. He then boarded the downtown bus and dropped a token in the receptacle. After a half-hour ride, he got off in the center of town. He enjoyed going downtown…the tall buildings, the hustle and bustle of the traffic, the people going hither and yon…but mostly he enjoyed watching all of the different types of people. On this occasion, as he had done for many weekends now, he walked over to that department store. “I wonder if it is still there.
I hope it is still there,” he thought.
As he approached the department store, and looking in the window, he thought, “There it is. It is so wonderful and beautiful.” His gaze fixed on the bright red Schwinn bicycle in the window display. He stood and looked at it as if in a trance. There it was: the bike he has dreamed about. He studied it from fore to aft. He thought, “With that bike with its basket I could carry a lot of things, and go anywhere I want. I would not have to take a bus, or walk to school.” His thoughts then brought him back to the moment, and reality.
He knew that there was no way he or his Mother could buy that bike. But, it was good to dream. He slowly walked away from the department store to the corner drug store, where he went to the soda fountain café and ordered a hamburger and chocolate shake; costing him 25 cents. He ate his lunch quietly, still thinking about the bicycle in that window. After eating, he strolled over to the movie theatre; paid his 17 cents for the ticket; bought some popcorn and Milk Duds, and sitting down in the theatre he enjoyed the double-feature movie. For the sake of him, however, he could not get that bicycle out of his mind.
The week had passed, and tonight was Christmas Eve. Eddie, although never feeling that he was lacking much in his life, did feel a little sad at this time of year. He had never experienced Christmas as many other kids had. There was never a tree or decorations, and most certainly no presents. He looked at the other houses and could see the Christmas lights shining through the windows, and hear the other children talk about the presents under their trees. For Eddie this was just another night. He waited up for his Mom to come home from work, and they talked a little, but she was so tired that she went straight to sleep.
As Eddie crawled into his own bed, he said a prayer. “Please God,” he said, “I have not asked you for much before, but just once I would like to see my Mom not work so much, and my little sister to have more. I would like to have a Christmas also God. And if it is not too much of a problem, I would like to have a bicycle so I can carry things to make money.” With that said, he drifted off to sleep.
The next morning was Christmas Day. Eddie got dressed as usual, ate some breakfast, and then went outside. As he stepped onto the porch, he could not believe what he saw; even rubbing his eyes as if in disbelief. “It is real!” Then running back into the house, he woke up his Mother, saying, “Mom…on the porch…Christmas came!” His Mom said, “What are you talking about Eddie?” Eddie grabbed her housecoat, gave it to her, and taking her hand headed out the door to the front porch. Now they both stared in disbelief, as there before them was a brand new, shiny red Schwinn bicycle, a large doll and other gifts for Susie, and gifts for Mom. There were so many gifts, too numerous to count. There was a broiler with a turkey and stuffing, candied yams and cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pies.
But Eddie’s eyes were just fixated on that bicycle. All the gifts had their names on them and signed Father Christmas. “Where did all these things come from Mom?” said Eddie. His Mother was as shocked as he and said, “I don’t know Eddie, I don’t understand. They say from Father Christmas, so I guess that’s where they come from.” The joyful tears were streaming down His mother and his cheeks, and for the first time in many years they hugged each other tight.
But the story does not end there. The day after Christmas, a car pulled up to Eddie’s house, and a man came to the door. Eddie answered his knock. He looked out at the car and it had a sign on the door that said “Spokane Daily Chronicle” on it. The man told Eddies Mom, “I am from the newspaper. I noticed the bicycle on the porch. I need a boy your son’s age with a bicycle, for your neighborhood route” He then turned to Eddie and said, “How would you like to have a newspaper delivery route and make some money.” Eddie answered in disbelief, “Oh Wow, would I!” Another prayer was answered. Eddie was to deliver the Spokane Daily Chronicle for two years, and set the stage for a continuing work ethic that lasted for over sixty years…all beginning with a young boy’s dream, a bicycle, and a miracle.
As some of my readers may surmise I was called Eddie as a child. This is a true story of my childhood, and at every Christmas time of year I am drawn to the event in my mind. My Mom has been gone for some time now, and always said that she did not buy the gifts or the food, nor did she know of anyone who could have…perhaps neighbors, the community chest, who knows. I have always believed it was the Great Spirit who answered the prayers of an innocent child, and performed a miracle.
I know that it was the best Christmas time in my memory. 1951 was a wonderful time to be a child. I have since traversed many “rough hills” and “peaceful valleys” on my long life’s journey; and experienced many miracle’s in my life; the…miracle of marriage to my soul mate, the birth of our three children and four grand-children…to name a few; yet the one miracle of that Christmas so many years ago, which led me on a life-long path of shaping my values and being in service to others, stays with me in memory. May you and your families enjoy a most blessed Christmas and have a most prosperous New Year, experience the joy of giving, and Stay Healthy My Friends!
*As previously published in the Valley Morning Star