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Thursday, December 19, 2013


When I was seven years old I received the best Christmas present ever.  I had recently learned how to ride a bike, but I did not have my own.  My brothers’ bikes were too big and I was not allowed to ride them off of my block.  I desperately wanted a new bike.  I wanted my own bike, a bike that was the right size and a bike that would give me freedom, at least as much freedom as a seven year old could be allowed.  In 1953, in southern California, a seven year old was given a surprising amount of freedom to roam… “Just be home before dark!”

That Christmas I ran down the stairs to find a 24” green Schwinn wrapped with a single red bow on the handlebar.  I was beside myself with glee.  It was the best present ever.

Many, many years later, I had the opportunity to pass the joy along.  I don’t remember giving any of my first brood a bike for Christmas, they probably got garage sale bargains, but for Spencer, my son born of wife #2, I had the means to purchase a brand new bike for his seventh Christmas.

Just the anticipation of the look on his face, his squeal of excitement when he would first see this bike, gave me the same warm glow as I had those many years ago when I was on the receiving end of my own Christmas Bike.

On Christmas Eve, while wife and son were asleep, I prepared the Christmas morning magic.  To the already decorated tree I added candy canes, a clear sign that Santa had been to our home.  I stuffed the stockings, another clue that the jolly elf had arrived, and I ate the cookies and drank the milk which had been left to nourish the man in red.  My last act was to distribute additional presents under the tree and for the coup de grace,  I hauled out Spencer’s new red bike from the shed and left it where it would be the first thing he saw from the stairs on Christmas morning.  A bow on the handlebars set the scene for a moment that my son would remember forever, a vivid memory the same as my own.

I was as excited to see his face when he saw that bike as I was when I found my own bike those many years ago.

Christmas morning came, and Spencer ran down the stairs.

“Candy canes, Santa was here!  The stockings are full; they were empty when I went to bed!  Look, he ate the cookies we left!”

“And what else do you see Spence?”

“Ah…lots of presents under the tree.”

“Yes, but anything special?”

“The bike?”

“YES!! The bike!”

“Yeah, it’s nice…can I empty my stocking now?”

I was taken aback by his lack of enthusiasm for a new bike.  When I was seven it was the greatest gift ever.  For Spencer it was “oh yeah, a bike.”

I tried to hide my disappointment.  Why the difference.  Were children today so spoiled?  Then it hit me.  Sixty years earlier, my bike cost $95.  That was a sum of huge proportions for a seven year old in 1953.  The bike I bought Spencer cost $75.  It was as good as or better than my old bike, but the cost was the equivalent to a basketball in my day.

Nice, but no big deal.

Furthermore, my bike allowed me to travel around the block and even to several blocks over.  Spencer’s new bike allowed him to ride around in circles in the parking lot behind our house.  He was capable of riding it further, but children in his generation are not allowed the freedom that I had.  Traffic considerations and stories of child-napping have stripped this generation of the innocence that was the joy of mine.

It was still a good Christmas.  My son was not disappointed.  He got most of the stuff he wanted.  I was the only one that missed out.  I missed out on the look of glee that only a seven year old can have when he gets a new bike for Christmas. 

That look of glee now comes with the unwrapping of a new i-pad, or an X-box. 

It is still a good look, but nothing could ever be the same as it was with a new Schwinn to a seven year old in the 1953. 



  1. I remember my first bike, but it wasn't a Christmas gift. My dad picked me up from school one day and had me wait on a circle of lawn near the corner store up the street from our home, he rode away on his big old man's bike, and came riding back on a small green girl's bike for me. I was eleven and free to roam the whole town with the same "be home when the sun goes down" rule. From then on my dad walked to and from work.

  2. I had a similar experience at about the same age. I can remember back then looking outside on Christmas morning and seeing all the neighborhood kids riding their new bikes (or the little guys their trikes) and tossing around their footballs. Today you look outside and see....nothing. The kids are all inside playing video games. And to add insult to injury, Schwinn went bankriupt in 1993 and sold off the brand. Today's Schwinns are made in....China. Surprise!


  3. sad that the simple pleasures and freedoms are sliding away.

  4. I can relate to that. On my daughter's 17th birthday she was finally old enough to go to the Day Spa with me. This was something that for years she had been fascinated with. Getting a spa facial and a massage was about the best thing imaginable to her and she always talked about it, always wanted to go with me. So on her 17th birthday I told her to be ready at 9:00am because I was taking her somewhere for her birthday, just the two of us. She was so excited, and I thought she might already know what I had planned. Then I saw her putting on her make-up --something you do not do when you are on your way to a day spa-- and I wondered what she might be thinking. She met me at my car with a huge smile. "Let's go!" she said, and so we got in the car and zoomed off. I said, "Do you know where we are going?" and she smiled and said, "I hope so! I think I do." I'll admit that I was excited about this day myself. I had looked forward to this mother-daughter day for quite a while. When we pulled up to the Day Spa, I saw her face fall a bit. And I thought to myself, what's going on? She has always wanted to go here, for years she had been talking about THE DAY when she's old enough to go here. Then she turned to me and said, "The spa. Okay, cool." with a fake cheerfulness. She was quiet on the walk to the facility, and once we were inside and were in our robes waiting to be called for our services, she finally spoke. She turned to me and said, " school is starting in just a few weeks. How am I going to get there? Am I going to drive your car again?" and then it hit me. She thought we were leaving that morning to pick out a car for her. She thought we were buying her a car! After all these years of telling her we would NOT buy a car for her, but that she'd have to save her money for one, she still thought that perhaps we'd surprise her one on her birthday. There was a part of me that felt a rush of anger as soon as she said that, but I kept my cool. The fact was, I was disappointed. I was looking forward to the excitement that she would have once she learned that we were going to the Day Spa together. And when she didn't show that excitement, my feelings got a little hurt and I was disappointed. But I guess I can understand - a day at the spa doesn't compare to having your own set of wheels when you are 17 and about to start your senior year of high school. (but then another side of me thought, "spoiled brat! Do you know how much this day at the spa is costing me??!!")

  5. We have a new long comment record surpassing the previous record also by Katrina "Queen of all commenters"


  6. A poignant story, and one I can relate to. On our son's seventh Christmas we bought him a bike. I'd cleverly placed a stuffed bunny on the rider's seat. The bunny came as a free gift from a store called Mervyn's and when our son read the store's name on the label he burst into tears thinking the bike was for some kid named Mervyn. It took hours to convince him that Santa hadn't made a mistake and by then I needed a stiff shot of brandy in my eggnog.

  7. The world has changed, & sometimes it's hard for us old codgers to accept that!!

  8. It's hard to decide if I want to comment on bicycles, changing times or River's dad selling his watch to buy a hair ornament. Or all three. River paints a simpler time's magic and how far we could go before the street lights came on. Frankly, I cannot recall any child or grandchild jumping up and down and screaming, or even looking as if they might faint away over a gift. Part of me hopes the day will come, when they are citizens, they recall something as the best ever and tell the story to a child.

  9. Nostalgia is a very sweet thing. Don't forget that no matter how long-lasting and joyous your memories are, the ones you have created for your kids are just as wonderful. They just won't be over the same things. They'll discover that when they try to recreate them for their own kidlets.

  10. haha, yeah Queenie gets caught by that one on a regular basis. she's pretty sure she knows what the 'big' gift will be and gets blind sided when something else hits the pleasure button instead. the daughters are good at that.

  11. My oldest is 5 and I've started to notice that each year I have been putting more and more pressure on myself to make sure he get's the best Christmas presents ever so he can have the kind of moments you're talking about. I probably need to tone it down some because he's going to love Christmas no matter what he gets and I'm just setting myself up for disappointment. Great post.

  12. I had an a-ha moment when you said kids don't have the same freedoms today that we used to have, and so having toys that used to make it possible to be independent just don't have the same cool-power they used to. That's kind of sad... :(

  13. When I was in 7th grade and my sister in 5th, our parents got us a black miniature poodle for Christmas. That was a big deal. We were not house-dog people. Dad went to pick it up late that night. It was just a puppy, all curly and roly-poly, and they left him loose in the family room with the tree and other presents. He was too small to climb the stairs. My sister was the first one down Christmas morning. She saw the puppy scamper by, and screamed, "A RAT! A RAT!" and ran back upstairs.