From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

A Father’s Christmas Eve Rescue

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.

Dale Carnegie

One of my great joys as a father is the annual tradition of playing Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. After the Christmas story is read, after the hot cider is gone, and after the last child is finally tucked away in bed, my wife and I spend a couple of hours scurrying throughout the house, producing presents from closets, drawers, under beds, and from places far too secret to mention here, lest my children find out.

Having performed this pleasant ritual for several years now, I have encountered more than once the maddening discovery that a special gift to one of my children lacks a particular part or battery or other accessory, something absolutely necessary for its proper functioning on Christmas morning. Sometimes I am able to make a last-minute save so that the gift will be complete, just the way Santa would have presented it. But I don’t know if I could perform the feat of heroism my father did one Christmas Eve when I was four years old.

That crisp Texas night, sometime after the Christmas story had been read, after the hot cider was gone, and after the last child was finally tucked away in bed, my father got out his tools, began to insert screw “A” into bolt “B” and proceeded to assemble a shiny new green pedal car. The present was to be my first pretricycle venture onto wheels. He knew I would be excited . . . no, more than excited. He knew I would be delirious when I climbed into the car, grabbed the steering wheel, and pedaled it across our small living room on Christmas morning. The assembly job proceeded well, until he discovered the dreaded “Father’s Christmas Eve Nightmare.” To his horror, one of the car’s wheels was missing.

I am sure that most fathers, including myself, after mumbling rude things about the kiddy car manufacturer and the store that sold it to them, would spend a few minutes rehearsing an apology to tell their children on Christmas morning and then simply go to bed. The really creative ones might manufacture a “letter” from Santa promising a new wheel just as soon as he could ship it from his North Pole workshop. But few fathers would do what my dad did that Christmas Eve.

He must have been very frustrated or very caring. He was certainly very determined. Since he never drank a drop of alcohol, he was without a doubt very sober, too. But some time in the predawn hours of Christmas Day, he climbed into his Studebaker sedan and drove ten miles to Leonard Brothers department store in downtown Fort Worth, where he had bought the deficient vehicle. What he was thinking I cannot speculate, but I promise that what follows is absolutely true.

After parking on the street in front of the store, my father began to walk around the dark building, knocking on its plate glass windows and doors. After several minutes of this, and most likely risking arrest in the process, my father attracted the attention of a security guard. The guard opened a door and asked his weary visitor what he wanted. My father explained the problem. Perhaps because of my father’s sincerity or his urgency, or perhaps because the guard had small children himself, the man did an amazing thing. He let my father come inside the store. Accompanying him to the toy department, the guard watched as my father rummaged around until he found a wheel that fit the pedal car. Triumphantly returning home, my father finished assembling the miniature roadster before his children awoke.

When I think about this, I am amazed. I’m amazed because in our modern world where cynicism and mistrust are counted as wisdom, in our day when crime knows no holiday, a security guard would never take the chance that one had, especially in a major city’s downtown area. I’m amazed that my father went to such extremes. But one thing that amazes me even more than how times have changed or how determined my father was, is that my father never told me about this extraordinary incident. When he died nine years after this took place, he took his secret with him. My mother didn’t tell me about it until more than twenty years after the fact. Most dads, and I include myself, wouldn’t be able to resist bragging to their kids about how they “saved Christmas.” But not him. He didn’t need the praise; he didn’t want the applause. And he had already earned the respect of his children in other ways. Apparently the only reward he sought and the only one he required was my blissful and ecstatic smile on Christmas morning when I found my new car under the tree, its green paint glimmering in the multicolored tree lights, with every single piece in place.

Nick Walker

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