The 1950s were a great time to grow up in Tacoma, Washington. My family was the first on the block to own a television. I was glued to the TV as I watched Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers.
It seemed just in time for Christmas when the Sears and Roebuck catalog arrived in the mail. As soon as it came I would lie down on the floor and look at the toy gun sets. There were pages and pages of them. I drooled over one gun sets, two gun sets, pistols, rifles, and derringers.
Christmas was a wonderful time of year. Besides dreaming of what I was going to receive I also got great comfort and joy by shopping for my mom and dad. I was a latch key kid. My dad was an office manager for a plumbing contractor and my mom was employed by the Boy Scouts. I was a Cub Scout, of course.
At home I was familiar with every closet, every drawer. Nothing escaped my attention. I knew every hiding place in our home. Although a lady next door kept an eye on me, I had the run of the house each workday afternoon. It would be rare to have a present for me and me not know it. I knew where everything was . . . well, almost everything.
One Christmas morning, as we were opening presents, I un-wrapped a plastic wallet. On the front of the wallet were two crossed pistols and a pony. I smiled knowingly. I had found two long-barreled six-shooters weeks before and played with them daily and then returned them to where my parents had originally hidden them. When I actually saw the guns that Christmas morning I acted surprised. I felt pretty smug.
After breakfast we went outside where I was introduced to my new Shetland pony. I was surprised. He kicked me in the knees the first day.
Our home was located only a few blocks away from Allenmore Golf Course. Between my home and Allenmore there were swamps where my friends and I captured polliwogs and an open field where both the circus and Oral Roberts put up their tents when they came to town.
When Cocoa, my spirited pinto Shetland, got loose and ran away he would run past the swamp and the big open field and head to the green grass on the fairways of Allenmore.
My two dogs, Pal, a collie-German shepherd mix, and Cindy, a black cocker spaniel waited for me to return from school at the front gate . . . patiently sitting and looking down the road. Cocoa waited in his little corral under the carport and faced the front gate. Sometimes, I would come home the back way. Walking silently down the alley I would approach the carport until I could see all three of them and then I would yell, “Hey” and startle them all.
My mom’s twin sister claimed I was an ornery little snot, but she didn’t say snot. My mom knew I was perfect.
On my own, I almost burned our kitchen up cooking bacon one afternoon when I was in second grade. Flames climbed the wall. Smoke coated the ceiling. I cleaned it all up before my parents came home. They never knew about the incident until I told them years later.
I still bear a scar from one afternoon’s play. I was whittling like the cowboys did. The butcher knife cut deeply into my thumb. I couldn’t hide all of the blood.
And one afternoon my two best friends (David who was four years older than I and Kathleen who was two years older) played with matches and burned most of a hill overlooking the Nalley Valley.
I like to think I was just curious and adventuresome.
In 1956 we sold my pony and we moved to Lakewood: 9511 Maple Avenue.
Although we lived in the suburbs, we still shopped downtown. My favorite places to shop were Woolworth’s, Kress’s, and Sears. They were all within a block and a half of each other on Broadway.
I used to take the escalators up and down at Sears and each time I came to the bottom floor, where they sold shoes I would put my feet inside a machine that showed where my toes where inside my shoes. I must have x-rayed my feet hundreds of times.
The toys and sports equipment were on the third floor of Sears and it was on the third floor in 1956 that I found my new heart’s desire. Forget guns, well, okay I still liked guns, and still like guns today, but there on the third floor next to the escalator were the bicycles.
I don’t know why they were called English Racers, but I knew what I wanted. I kissed my old heavy, balloon-tired bike good-bye. The bike I wanted was a sleek, three-speed, skinny-tired bike made in Austria. It was black with white and gold striping.
There was a little black bag behind the seat just in case I wanted to bring along a tool set for a ride. There was a little generator you could adjust so that forward motion of the front tire powered the headlight and there was a red reflector on the rear fender. There was even a tire pump. To my little fifth grade heart, the bike was perfect.
I told my parents about the bike in plenty of time for Christmas, and it was then they explained their finances to me. The move to Lakewood had depleted the family bank account. There was not much money left over for Christmas.
I was told that I should pick ONE GIFT I wanted for Christmas. I chose a flintlock pistol like the Pirates of the Caribbean or Davy Crocket might use.
I continued my shopping, my dreaming and kept up a happy face. I was un-concerned.
On Christmas day I got my toy gun. After we unwrapped all of our presents I was playing in my bedroom and I heard a “click, click, click.” Now, knowing the circumstances some people might have thought it was my dog Pal walking across the hardwood floors, but I knew what it was.
The sound was the ratchet noise of a European bike when it was just rolling. There in the living room was my brand new English Racer from Austria.
Did I have faith that my parents would buy me the exact present I was longing for? No. Faith had nothing to do with it. As I rode up and down the escalators at Sears I would look at my bike on each trip. One day there was a sign on the bike: Hold for Don Doman, 9511 Maple Avenue.
I wound up with both my toy gun AND a new bike . . . but I said this was a one present Christmas. The toy gun and the English Racer have both everything and nothing to do with Christmas. So, what was the one present I got?
Was it Jesus? No. We were not a religious family. Actually, I was appalled when we moved into 9511 Maple Avenue and my parents told me that they expected me to attend the Methodist church, which was only three blocks away . . . by myself.
That spring, each Sunday I left home on my English Racer, but would ride only two blocks and stop on the shores of Lake Steilacoom and read.
Was the one present love? Hardly. We didn’t use the word. This was the 1950s. My family was never demonstrative. I only learned about hugging people after I married my wife Peggy. To this day my youngest sister runs the other way if anyone attempts to hug her.
What was the one present that really stood out in 1956 . . . and every Christmas before and since then? Joy. Simple joy.
Sharing and giving. Isn’t that the essence of Christmas? And what we all look for? Have a Merry Christmas everyone.