Mothers are the most wonderful creatures on Earth. I never told my mother that because I was a typical dumb kid. But I will. Someday. As soon as I get the chance.
I remember one Christmas in particular. I was 12, in the eighth-grade and enjoying my second winter in Connecticut after having moved there from New York City. That second winter in New London wasn’t what the old-timers there called a “hard un,” but it was an eye-opener for me. Twenty inches of snow had fallen so far and two days before Christmas, after I had finally saved up enough to go shopping for Mom’s present, here came another storm.
Fortunately, my older brother Charlie “volunteered” to walk the mile downtown with me. So off we went, in heavy falling snow, trudging through a foot of the white stuff already on the ground.
“What’re you going to get Mom?” Charlie asked me.
“I don’t know.”
“How much have you got?”
That was, as we used to say back in those days, the 64-dollar question. I had a paper route with 60 people on it, and I had just gotten paid for the week’s delivery, but it wasn’t much. I got 7 cents for each paper I delivered Monday through Saturday. That should have come to $4.20, but what with customers who weren’t home, or who didn’t pay the paper boy that week, and even adding in what I had saved up, I had just $4.80 in my pocket.
Ten cents of that, I might add, had come from a little old lady who insisted that I climb the outside stairway to her second story apartment door each day, rain or shine, open her storm door, and carefully tuck the paper inside it.
“Don’t worry, young man,” she always said, smiling at me as she paid me the 28 cents for the papers each week, “I’m going to give you a big tip when Christmas comes.”
I had looked at that dime in disbelief as she handed it to me, but I still mumbled a polite thank you and did my best to look grateful. Ten cents? One thin dime? For climbing 21 steps each day? For 312 days?
I wondered how much that was per step, and tried calculating it as I walked my route, collecting for the week, but couldn’t do it in my head. It wasn’t much, that’s for sure!
I remember thinking that back in 1871 when she was born, something she often mentioned to me, a dime probably went a long way. She was 73. I’m 77 at the moment, and I can tell you a dime went a lot farther in 1932 when I was born than it does now.
It would, for example, buy two Hershey bars, each of which was twice the size of the ones you get now for 65 cents — if they haven’t gone up again since the last time I bought one.
Anyway, when I told Charlie that all I had was $4.80, his comment was, “Boy! That’s not going to buy much!”
An hour or so later we were back home, stamping snow off our shoes. I was carrying a paper bag with Mom’s present in it, or I should say presents.
Charlie drifted into the living room to listen to the radio. I carried my prizes upstairs to my bedroom in the attic and put them on the bed, intending to wrap them the next day.
I knew that Mom would have some cheerful red tissue paper I could use, and maybe even a To-and-From tag I could have too, but I didn’t want to ask her for anything that evening because she and Pop Johnson, my stepfather, were listening to the radio in the kitchen. Wasn’t any point anyway. There was no heat up in the attic, and it was too cold up there at night to do something like wrap a Christmas present. I intended to do it the next day when the sun came out and warmed up the attic — if it came out, that is.
So back downstairs I went to listen to the radio in the living room with Charlie, who hadn’t said much as I picked out Mom’s gifts, and didn’t mention them during the couple of hours we spent listening to the radio. Then, fortified with a cup of hot chocolate, I climbed the stairs to my attic bedroom, undressed, got into bed in record time, slid under a thick comforter, pulled it up to my ears, and drifted happily off to sleep.
The next day I wrapped Mom’s presents and slid them, all in one package, under the tree along with all the other presents, feeling very proud of myself. I could hardly wait for her to open it, and it being Christmas Eve I had only one day to wait.
Trouble is, as always, they made me open my presents first, it being a tradition in my family that the youngest had to open his or her presents before anyone else. So I waded through a ton of colored wrapping paper and came up with a whole load of stuff, all of which I have forgotten except three Zane Grey novels, which when I read them started me thinking I would like to live in Arizona, and were no doubt the most meaningful presents I ever received, because they shaped my future in a very real way.
What do I mean? Here I am!
Oh no, come to think of it, I do remember one other present. I also received three weeks at a wilderness camp. I was really excited about the prospect of three weeks in the wild, but it didn’t pan out. I’ll tell you about it some day.
Anyway, at long last Mom opened her present from me — or perhaps I should say all four of them. One pair of solid brass candlesticks. One round brass box with a hinged lid. One square brass box standing on four legs. And the topper, a solid brass cat lying on its back with a big grin on its face.
Mom kissed me and told me they were the best presents she’d ever gotten. I was as proud and happy as 12-year-olds get.
However, as I mentioned at the start of this thing, I can hardly wait to thank Mom for being the wonderful mother she was. No matter what, she always knew what to say, and always said it.
Did I mention that those four wonderful, solid brass gifts I bought her that Christmas could stand in the palm of your hand?
All at once?