Looking back I don’t know how we hadn’t lost our house. My mom had tried to sell our simple suburban red brick ranch several times but my brother and I didn’t want to move so we kept taking the for sale sign down. Maybe the market was similar to today too. I’m not sure. I was only fifteen and didn’t pay attention to such things. All I knew was that our Christmas tree stood nearly naked in the front room, centered in the picture window, and there were only a few presents under it, one each.
My dad died several years earlier and left us with no insurance and no savings. My mom had found work as a cashier in a local drug store and selling clothes in home shows for a company called Beeline Fashions. Sometimes she also worked as a cocktail waitress in a bar called the Front Range Inn. I worked in a local greenhouse and helped with the bills when I wasn’t being selfish. Times were tough.
But before my dad died, Christmases had been ample.
One Christmas Eve I woke to a buzzing sound. I thought it was my father shaving with his electric shaver. I woke my younger brother, not noticing it was still ink black outside.
“Santa’s come. Dad’s up and shaving. Listen.” We sneaked out of our little bedroom. But the buzz was coming from the living room. We peaked around the corner. My mom, in her robe, looking disheveled, sat on a chair facing the overflowing Christmas tree. My dad was on his knees running race cars around a track. Two new shiny bikes stood cocked on their kickstands and presents of all kinds filled the room. We gaped and then shouted in delight.
My dad jerked around. A car spun out. “What are you boys doing up?” He was caught. Then looking at the track he said, “Santa had to rush off. So, he asked me to finish setting up your car set. Want to give it a try?” He held a controller out to my brother and me.
We rode the bikes up and down the hall and played race track long into the night. Finally, my parents forced us back into our room to sleep until the real Christmas morning. That was 1964 or so.
Christmas of 1972 was anything but ample. I had spotted a wrist watch and let my mom know that’s what I wanted. It was a Timex with a copper face and a big, three-inch wide, tooled leather band. Really cool. I’ve always loved watches. It cost about thirty bucks. Well beyond our budget. Plus Christmas had become about getting clothing we needed not luxury items. Still a boy could hope.
We were not a church going family. Our tradition was to open one present each on Christmas Eve. Then open the rest on Christmas morning. Trouble was, there was only one present. We all sat in the living room staring at the tree trying to decide what to do. Good old immediate gratification Eugene argued to open them now and just sleep in on Christmas morning. My mom loved sleeping in and that argument carried the night. I took the wrapped box with my name on it and tore it open.
Afterwards I stood downstairs in the middle of my bedroom, my long hair covering my face, alone, weeping. The summer before I had been introduced to the Person whose birthday Christmas is a celebration of: Jesus. My life had become a whirlwind of change and newness. It was like a hard cast of clay that encased my life and heart had been broken and was flaking off, letting me breathe real life. That year, as Christmas drew near, through Thanksgiving especially, I ached to experience Christmas as a true celebration of the new friend and Savior I was learning about. I wanted to be thankful for the gift of life.
I didn’t want Christmas to be about getting, even really cool wrist watches. I didn’t know what I did want though. A star hanging over our house. Angels singing. Cattle lowing. Miracles breaking out. For Jesus to erase our pain and loss and emptiness and poverty–not just financially–but emotionally and spiritually too. Yes, that was it. Though that night I could not have said it that way.
I smeared my teenage tears. No angels had sung. And my family was still a mess, and would always be. But my tears were not sad only. There was joy in them too. The cool Timex swallowed my skinny wrist. My mom had sacrificed to buy it for me.
I looked at the watch and realized that’s how much Jesus loved me. Loves us! And in a few months we would mourn and celebrate his loving sacrifice at Easter.
My mom sold our house a couple of years later while I was in the Navy. And since that Christmas Eve, Christmases have been richer and poorer. But they have never been empty. For that I am thankful.
Eugene C. Scott’s favorite holidays are Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In that order. He still loves watches, especially the two 1940 something editions of his dad’s. Eugene also co-pastors the Neighborhood Church which is preparing for Christmas through an Advent series called “The Gift of Christmas Presence.” It begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
The Year a Watch Changed Christmas
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I am thankful for all that Grandma did for all of us.