30: The Little Red Wagon

30: The Little Red Wagon

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

The Little Red Wagon

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.

~From the television show, The Wonder Years

“It’s almost Christmas, Julie. Do you know what that means?” my mother asked as we trudged home from school in the deep snow.

“Yes! It means I will get a little red wagon from Canadian Tire for Christmas!” I announced, full of five-year-old confidence.

“Well, you will certainly get some lovely things, but . . .”

“But a little red wagon is the best present,” I interrupted.

“For a boy, maybe,” Mom shrugged. “But I thought you wanted a dollhouse!”

I thought about that. I had wanted a dollhouse very much. But now I wasn’t so sure.

Mom noticed my hesitation. “What made you think about a wagon?”

“Mrs. McKendrick read us a story today,” I explained, “and the boy wanted a little red wagon so much that he was good for months before Christmas, and then on Christmas morning he got his red wagon, and it said ‘Canadian Tire’ on it and everything was wonderful!” I had stopped walking and stood there, in my big rubber galoshes, staring up at my mother.

She smiled. “Oh! I see. Well then. Let’s give that some thought, shall we?”

“Okay.” I nodded happily and we continued walking home.

The Christmas season progressed, filled with school concerts and a nativity play featuring some very funny looking sheep and donkeys. Dad and I put up the tree, and I helped Mom with her baking. We wrapped gifts together, and I thought more and more about the story of the boy and his little red wagon. I asked my father to read it to me several times, and he told me how much he had loved his red wagon when he was my age. I became even more convinced that the story was right. The red wagon was clearly the key to the whole event, and definitely the best gift ever.

Mom noticed I was being very good, not complaining about bath or bedtimes, and not leaving clothes on the floor or pushing my horrid parsnips away. She even teased me about it a little, so I told her I wanted to be sure about the little red wagon. Her face seemed to change when she heard that. She didn’t look as pleased with me, rather she looked almost worried.

“But I thought we talked about that,” she said.

“We did! I told you how important it is.” I laughed. “That’s why I’m being so good!”

My mother sighed and walked away. I didn’t understand what was wrong. It all made sense to me.

A week before the big day my parents always took me to see the special Christmas windows at the Toronto Eaton’s store, at the corner of Yonge and Queen Streets. We went out for dinner, then walked along Queen Street and pressed our noses to the glass. Every year, the windows were better than the year before, and this year was no exception. There were dolls and baby buggies, toy trains, games and bicycles. And everything moved. But then I gasped — there it was: the little red wagon! It was so beautiful. It had bright shiny red paint with gold trim, a long black pull handle and black rubber wheels with little red hubs on them. No wonder the boy in the story wanted one!

“Mom, Dad, look! There it is! That’s it! That’s the little red wagon I want!”

They exchanged looks with each other, and then both looked down at me. My heart was pounding, but they obviously didn’t share my excitement. They didn’t seem to understand.

“It doesn’t say Canadian Tire on it, like in the story, but it does say The T. Eaton Company in gold paint and that’s almost as good!” I was breathless with excitement.

“But you’ll never play with it!” Mom insisted.

“If I don’t get a little red wagon for Christmas everything will be horrible!” I exclaimed, bursting into tears. Then I felt a rush of shame. I hung my head. Dad took my hand and we went home.

As Mom put me to bed that night, she gently explained. “Julie, that story your teacher read to you has convinced you of something that just isn’t true. What that boy wanted isn’t what you want. It was just a story about hopes and dreams. And you should always dream of wonderful things. But even if you don’t get what you wish for, you are still a very good girl, and we both love you more than anything!”

And with a kiss, she left the room. I knew what she was trying to explain, but I wasn’t sure I believed her.

I never mentioned the story or the wagon again. I knew it was useless, and I resigned myself to the situation. A strange sense of calm settled over me, and I no longer worried or dreamed about what I would find under the tree. But I wasn’t excited any more either. My parents asked me if I felt okay, and kept putting their hands on my forehead. As they tucked me into bed on Christmas Eve, I knew I would have no trouble sleeping.

Then a miracle happened. On Christmas morning when I went out to the living room the little red wagon was there! It was tucked under the sparkling tree, surrounded by gaily-wrapped parcels, and it was truly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The lights on the tree reflected like diamonds in the shiny red paint. I was afraid to touch it, as if it might vanish like a dream does when you wake up. When I turned to look at my parents, my mom was crying with a hanky clutched in her hand. Dad’s smile was bigger than anything I’d ever seen.

We carefully moved it out into the room, and I ran my hands over every inch. The metal was smooth and cool, and the long black handle fit into my small hand perfectly. The slanted “T. Eaton Company” gold lettering on the side was perfect. The tires were rough and nubby, and made a deep satisfying rumble when I pulled the wagon along the floor. Although I am sixty years old now, I can still smell those rubber tires.

I never did play with the wagon — Mom was right about that. But I never stopped loving it. It hung from a hook in the garage for years, and sometimes I saw Mom using it to pull bags of garden soil to her flowerbeds. But I never once regretted owning it. It represented more than I could ever measure. Love, I guess — a tangible display of pure love.

~Julia Lucas

Aurora, Ontario

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