In 1964, when my dad was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, we discovered something we’d never seen, or heard of, before. A MALL. As a first grader, I was mesmerized. The 100 miles to San Bernardino, on a two-lane road, felt like a religious pilgrimage.
The trip, itself, was the challenge. It started as soon as we exited the base housing area, going from luscious, irrigated, green lawns, to a desert punctuated by Joshua trees and tumbleweeds. Right outside the base gate was what we affectionately called “Rabbit Run.” Desert Jack Rabbit carcasses were plentiful for about a mile. My father would jerk left and right and left and right, trying to avoid the carcasses. My older brother would complain, “I’m going to get sick.” Dad would counter with a roughly spoken, “No you’re not! It’s all in your head.” We were beyond Jack Rabbit Run in a few minutes, and all went well.
Until “the Roller Coaster.” A stretch of several miles where the flat, ancient seabed we rode on was interrupted every few hundred yards with a three-foot-high ripple. My dad’s “need for speed” would cause our stomachs to float up in our rib cages as the car momentarily seemed to go airborne at the top of each of each bump. My brother and dad repeated their conversation . . . but it soon passed when the ripples disappeared.
Until dad lit up. Then mom. I didn’t know there was a world without parents smoking until years later. My brother and dad repeated their conversation . . . .but it soon passed when mom rolled her window down.
Until the mountains. Dad didn’t slow down. The outside wheels grazed the edge of the mountain, and alfalfa ladened pickup trucks kept us from passing for only a few seconds. We all groaned. My brother and dad repeated their conversation . . . .
Well, some of it. Because Dad was wrong. It wasn’t in my brother’s head. It was now all over the floorboard of the car. After that, Mom took charge of the driving, and we descended the other side of the San Bernardino Mountains with no further incidents.
At the mall, though only in first and third grades, my older brother and I were set free to shop on our own (believe it or not). I had a plan. I had saved $12 that year so I could buy my family presents using my own money—for the first time. I’d spent $2 on my sister’s new LP, $2 on my brother’s James Bond briefcase, and $3 on my dad’s Old Spice gift set—with a “genuine imitation leather pouch.” But I bought all those at the Base Exchange, where everything was cheap.
I saved $5 to buy a special gift for my mother—from the mall!
That’s as far as my plan went. I didn’t know what I’d buy. I just knew I’d know the right gift when I saw it. Eventually, I stumbled upon a shop called “Knick Knacks.”
And there it was. The perfect gift. An ashtray. Mounted on the side was a wide mouth fish made from the horn of a small animal. Decorative tiles, matching the fish, lined the rim of the ashtray. It was functional, and it was beautiful.
On Christmas, I watched my mother open this gift. She called me over. With tears in her eyes, she hugged me like it was the greatest gift ever given. And when we had the estate sale, to close and sell her house, I rescued that ashtray. Like a precious treasure, she had kept it through all those decades.
What about your story? What about your contest? Maybe some will talk about trips during a pandemic, the challenges of the 2020, and the gift of a vaccine. Hopefully, some will share a more personal tale.
After everyone has had a chance, present the winner with a prize . . . something better than an ashtray.
And then tell the Story no one can top.
. . . to Bethlehem (a trip)
. . . pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child (a challenge)
. . . and she gave birth to her firstborn (a gift)
Luke 2:1-7 (NIV)
. . . and escape to Egypt (a trip)
. . . orders to kill all the boys (a challenge)
. . . gifts of gold, and of incense and of myrrh (the gifts)
Matthew 2:1-18 (NIV)
Now THAT’S the perfect Christmas Story