The year I was six years-old, I'd waited what seemed like forever for Christmas day to come. Since I had two siblings and money was tight, getting the bicycle I'd asked for was a big deal. At least I halfway still believed in Santa Claus and he was going to bring my bike. When I heard my parents discussing Christmas in the dining room when they thought I was asleep in the next room, the other half of my brain told me they'd have to come up with the money for gifts.
"My salary has almost been cut in half," my dad said. "In this economy, I'm lucky to have a job at all."
"I know, Roy," my mom told my father, "but we have to do something for our kids this Christmas. They're only young once."
And I knew my parents. They would do "something." Somehow, I still expected to get that bike.
Two days before the big day, I had a bad cold and a fever. I stayed in bed. Even on Christmas morning, my mother said, "You're still sick, but you can come to the table for breakfast and into the living room while we open presents. Then it's back to bed with you."
We had our traditional Christmas breakfast of juice, bacon, eggs and grits. We three children ate as fast as we could, and then lined up by the closed dining room door waiting for our father to ceremoniously open it.
When he did, I first saw the box of presents my favorite aunt, my mother's sister, always brought. Since she had no children, she doted on us. Then I looked around. No bicycle. Where was it? Outside? Nope. It wasn't by the front door. My heart sank.
My dad played Santa. He called out names one by one. I opened practical gifts of socks and pajamas, but I quickly cast them aside. Then my mother handed me a card. It read:
"I couldn't make it down the chimney with your bike, but I'll have it delivered to you next Tuesday.
I stuck out my bottom lip. Then I started wondering how many children had a letter from Santa Claus. And I began to believe in him again. What did it matter if I didn't get my bike on Christmas Day? I was sick. I couldn't ride it now anyhow. I pressed the letter to my chest. It was a treasure greater than any bicycle.
I did get the bicycle the next week, but I wasn't home when it arrived. My parents made sure of that. I rode that bike for several years, but I kept the letter longer. Longer than my belief in the man in the red suit. When it got away from me somehow, I spent lots of time looking for it. But I never found it. I guess that's part of life. Things getting away from you. Still, I treasure that memory of that giftless Christmas--it wasn't really giftless at all.