PITTSFIELD -- It was, as I recall, the most awkward and penetrating of stares. I was on the cellar steps when I caught a glimpse of Dad, his red eyebrows furrowed, trying to piece together what for sure was a Christmas toy. It didn’t appear as though there was much merriment going on in his life at that moment, and it was compounded by the fact that my perch on those stairs was ill-timed.
I was sort of at that age where you start to figure out that maybe that guy who worked nights at GE had something to do with helping Santa deliver the gifts that were found under the tree on Christmas morning. Seeing him there in a catcher’s crouch surrounded by screwdrivers and other mechanical devices that helped segue the human race into the mid-20th century, I took immediate retreat, and didn’t stop climbing until I made it safely to my second-floor bedroom.
Heart still racing, I surmised that yet another childhood fantasy had suddenly exploded in my face. They were learning moments, sometimes painful moments, but nonetheless growing and maturing moments. Never, though, were they conversational moments. Never to your friends would you say, "Hey, guess what I figured out last night?"
What I’m saying here is that you can sort of track the transitional nature of my life by freezing some of those Christmas memories. For example, from that point on the tags on my holiday gifts never again said "from Santa." Those tags simply had my name. As the eldest of three siblings I continued to play along.
I had, for lack of a better way to say it, crossed over to the other side. I had always pressed my nose against the cold glass of my bedroom window on Christmas Eve in search of Santa’s sleigh. The voice on my transistor radio would update his trek across the North American continent and I would look into the stars hoping to catch a glimpse.
All I ever got for my trouble was a cold nose. Now I knew why. Not everything you learn in life comes from a book, and I’m glad of that.
Another exciting yet sobering holiday moment during a young life is that first Christmas where you become not just a receiver but also a giver. Somewhere along the way -- shortly after that Thanksgiving bird has been picked clean -- there occurs a maturing age and urge to become part of the gift-giving frenzy.
And after that first surge of anticipation about heading out to the shops and buying presents for others comes the stunning revelation that this is going to require some dough. And we ain’t talking biscuits here. It was always so cool to get that Christmas card from Uncle Larry with that $20 bill nestled inside.
Now, the mortality rate for that $20 was a lot shorter, as it suddenly had to be turned around and changed into a gift for, you guessed it, Uncle Larry. OK, I get it. Larry hands me $20 and I give it to an adult, who purchases a bottle of Larry’s favorite brand of scotch, which in turn is given to me to give to Uncle Larry.
This is Economics 101. My young and still infertile mind began to figure it out. Larry gets the scotch and I get the satisfaction of having bought it for him with Larry’s $20.
Talk about life lessons. So, yes, Christmas taught me the joys of both giving and receiving with a few financial lessons thrown in for good measure. As a body of work, though, the still-magical-to-me moments and memories of this holiday remain precious and treasured, I hope it’s the same for you.
To all, the happiest and healthiest of holiday seasons.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.