A Christmas Story
By Richard Mabey Jr.
In June of 1967, I graduated from Chapel Hill School. At the age of 13, the summer that dawned upon me would grace me with many blessings. One of the most precious and dearest blessings to touch my heart, came upon a very simple and ordinary moment that I shared with my dear father.
My dad made his living as a long-distance truck driver. Dad drove the big rigs along the highways and byways of America. It was during the summer of 1967, I came to know my dad a little better. From time to time, when Dad had a local, one-day run, he would invite me to ride with him in his big 18-wheeler truck. I remember so very well, how it was a big deal for a kid to go to work with his dad.
Whenever Dad would invite me to go along with him on a local truck run, I would make sure that I went to bed the night before by eight o’clock. Going to work with Dad meant getting up at five-thirty in the morning and the very last thing in the world I wanted was to oversleep or to be sleepy during my time with my father, riding in his big rig truck.
Morning came, my alarm sounded right at five-thirty. I remember getting up, brushing my teeth, and getting washed and dressed just as fast as I could. As Dad and I would eat breakfast, Dad would listen to the old WOR-AM radio, easy-listening music of “Rambling with Gambling” that featured the famous radio announcer, John Gambling.
As Dad and I ate our Cheerios in the morning, I saw Dad do something that touched my heart so very deeply. Dad took the empty Cheerios box and ripped it into small squares. Dad then picked up one of his work shoes and examined a small hole in the bottom of his shoe. I remember my Dad turning around, opening one of the kitchen cabinet drawers and taking out his roll of gray duct tape. With great care and patience, my beloved father then placed two or three pieces of the cardboard squares, that he had torn from the empty Cheerios box, onto the inside of his work shoe that had the small hole. Then Dad taped the cardboard squares into place with pieces of the gray duct tape.
I remember how my heart sank. I remember saying to my dad, “Dad, why don’t you just buy a new pair of shoes?”
I remember my dear father simply replying, “Richie, I’m saving up for something important. You can’t save money if you buy a new pair of shoes every time you get a hole in your shoe.”
My dad grew up in the Great Depression. He fought in the Second World War. Through all those struggles of his childhood, youth and young manhood, Dad grew to learn the earnest value of saving money.
I remember the thrill of working with my dad that summer’s day. It is a memory that I still dearly cherish. But still, I remember the quiet sadness I felt for my dad in that he had forsaken buying a new pair of shoes in order to save his money for something special.
It wasn’t until the Christmas of 1967 that I found out why my dad was saving his money. Underneath our Christmas tree was a big box, a heavy box, which was wrapped with bright Christmas paper. The gift was for both my sister and I. I remember, after all these years later, that the card simply read, “To Richie and Patti, Knowledge is power. Love, your Mom and Dad.”
I remember that I gave the honor of opening this big gift to my sister. When she ripped open the wrapping paper and opened the big box, there sat a full set of World Book Encyclopedias. I remember how my heart sang with joy, from receiving such a wonderful gift. My dad smiled and gently whispered to me, “this moment was worth walking in shoes fixed up with cardboard.”
My dad went Home to be with the Lord in May of 2006. I still miss him so very dearly. For the most part of my life, I’ve been blessed to make my living as a writer. Whenever I face the challenge of a blank sheet of paper, I think of the sacrifices that my dear father made for me. In earnest heart, I do my best to be true to my father. And it is in this moment, as I write this essay, that tears flow down my face.