Growing up, our children never knew we were poor. We had a nice warm home; a black and white television set with three network over-the-air channels; furniture I used to describe as early poverty; and always had enough food to put on the table even though many days the food was bought with deposits from returned soda bottle. We became experts at making a dime stretch into a dollar, found out casseroles fed a family of five more fully than designer meals, and never left a lamp burning anywhere there wasn’t a body to enjoy the light.
One year, the first “video” game became available to the masses. The game was Pong. Compared to today’s game players, this game would have been rated most appropriate for ages birth to 18 months. You hooked up Pong to your television set and then, controlled by a joystick, you bounced a white ping-pong ball back and forth across the screen. That was it. It was simple, but quite exciting. Going from simple board games to this new video game concept was something the entire family wanted. We had to get this game, and of course, it came up for sale just in time for Christmas shopping.
I knew Pong was the present that our entire family would enjoy and we would be the talk of the neighborhood with our new gaming concept. It took me days to go over our skimpy budget and scour into dresser drawers throughout the house, several trips to return soda bottles, and discovering a five-dollar bill in the washing machine to find enough money, but I did it. I can’t remember how much the gaming system was, but I knew it would be the only present under the tree that year.
A week before Thanksgiving, my husband, Jim, and I went to the department store and bought Pong for our family Christmas present. We snuck into the house and hid our package in the garage under the lawn maintenance equipment and covered it with a burlap bag. We were sure that none of our kids would ever find it and proceeded to make preparations for a grand Thanksgiving and eagerly awaited the arrival of Christmas and our new Pong game.
Two weeks before Christmas, our 10 year old son, Dave, was playing in the garage. He came into the house for dinner that night and was acting very strangely. He was quiet and couldn’t make eye-contact with anyone around the table. After the dishes were done, Dave slowly came up to me, his eyes looking down at the floor and said, “I’m sorry, Mom, but I found our Christmas present. I didn’t mean to,” he started to tear up. “I had to tell you. Will you forgive me?”
My mind was reeling. The very special present that year, the only one we could afford, was now exposed. Dave was devastated and crying. I put my arms around him and told him I didn’t think he found the present deliberately, I was sure that he moved the lawn mower, picked through the rakes, and pulled back the burlap bag purely by accident.
I then proceeded to call an emergency family meeting. I said due to an unforeseen event, Christmas was coming early that year. Everyone was curious but very excited. They didn’t ask any questions, and I didn’t spill the beans on Dave’s discovery. I simply told them I was too excited to wait any longer to open our present.
Because our house was not decorated for the celebration yet, I gave orders for each member to help pull an early Christmas Eve together in a matter of minutes. Debi and Jon were to get snacks and drinks. I sent Jim to the attic and told him to throw some balls and lights on the yet unadorned Christmas tree in the living room and start a fire in the fireplace. I dug out all our Christmas music albums and started playing our favorite carols on the record player.
We spent some time with drinks and snacks in the warmth of the flames and the glow of our tree. I then told Dave he had the honor of going to the garage and getting our family present. The entire evening was filled with laughter and joy. For a time, we didn’t dwell on the fact it was December 15 and not December 24, we didn’t dwell on the fact that there was only one present that year, and as I do every Christmas Eve, I didn’t dwell on worrying how to pay the bills. Nothing was going to stop me from having the best Christmas Eve ever. And we did.
The special early Christmas is something that our entire family continues to remember well, that and the time our daughter, Debi, was learning how to drive and drove our car through the garage door. But that’s another story.
Causes Dawn Meier Supports
All children's causes.