If you were as lucky as me, growing up and learning life’s lessons and taking responsibility for your failures, I’m happy for you. My dad didn’t have that much to say, but he could make a point very clearly in a few words: “You broke their window. Go knock on their door.” He also had other weapons of choice often invoked after my mother uttered those six dreaded words: “Wait til your father gets home.”
I won’t trouble or bore you with my favorite mailman’s punishment when either of his sons got themselves into trouble (this one, often) but believe me, the same misdeed never repeated itself. A quarter-inch thick oak yard stick liberally applied to my gluteus maximus was a principal factor. In those days, that rule of thumb applied both at school and home: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Let the record show that I was never spoiled.
I don’t know what they do in our elementary schools today when a “child” is “naughty” (well, yes I do, really) but in my day the teacher stood the “perp” in the hall outside the classroom door facing the wall. It was not “in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there” but rather in fear that Principal Cobbs soon would be. Picked up by the shirt collar and marched up the stairs to stand behind his office door was ye olde punishment du jour. Worse than that, a phone call was made to mother at home … mothers were at home in those days … and the rest of the evening was fairly predictable.
Why am I telling you about all this stuff just now during the blessed holiday season? Well, I guess because it made me begin to think about my dad as I remembered a Christmas Day almost 80 years ago when time stood still.
In those depression-era days, we would awaken on Christmas morn knowing that our presents (always soft) would be wrapped in tissue paper tied with a simple paper ribbon … a new home-knitted scarf, some new underwear, maybe new (homemade) pajamas … plus one special gift. Once it was a tin, wind-up Lone Ranger twirling a wire lasso, mounted on “Silver” rearing on his hind hoofs. Now that was special and a great gift to take to school for “show and tell” after the holidays. And once my brother was heard to shriek: “Joy to the world, I got my truck!” A Christmas gift for us in those days truly was special.
But the best Christmas of all was the morning I unwrapped a small solid gift that sure wasn’t underwear. It was from dad: My first, and very own, pocket watch. Wow! I think it was (I’ll be back right after this crass commercial announcement) an Elgin. And it was ticking, and it displayed the same correct time as shown on our electric kitchen clock. More Wow!
Well, what to do with this coveted gift? In those days, we generally wore bib overalls and so, after getting out of my Doctor Dentons (the pajamas with feet) and dressed for a joyous day of sled riding — we had deep snow by Christmas in those days — I checked the time, listened to make sure my beautiful new time piece was ticking, then slipped it into the watch pocket of my overalls, picked up my trusty Fexible Flyer sled from the back porch, and headed for “the hill,” after promising to be back by dinner time.
Actually, “the hill” was three hills. The one on the left was gentle and not much of a challenge, down through a gaggle of trees and a briar patch; but it had a couple of “jumps” in it, making it a good warm up before we tackled the big hill in the center; and then, and only then, on the far right: “King Kong” that was more cliff-like than hill. We all liked the big hill best because you could go back up the path, get a running start with sled in hand, and then at the last minute belly-flopping on to the sled at the top of the hill for maximum speed. Dare devils we were! Evel Knievel would have been impressed.
I don’t think I tried King Kong that day, but I do remember that to make sure I would not be late for supper, I brushed off the snow, took off my mittens, unzipped my bulky jacket, and slipped my beautiful new time piece from the watch pocket of my overalls, and … oh, no … tragedy, then tears. The crystal was shattered and the hands bent. I had belly-flopped my new watch to death. It was a terrible moment, filled with anguish; and even more so when I realized I would have to tell dad. Oh, woe was me. I was frozen in time and so was my watch. It was a very long, slow walk home.
I do not remember the conversation with my father that day, nor do I recall any anger. No lecture. But I am sure he was disappointed for me, not in me. And I know for sure whatever he told me he did not have to say: “There won’t be another watch.” That was perfectly understood. In fact, I knocked on my own door and told myself those very words. The next watch I owned I bought for myself from paper route earnings about a decade later, when I was 15 or so. You can bet I always took it off my wrist when belly-flopping. Still do, when golfing. And I still always knock on the door when I break something, or when I stop by to say: Merry Christmas, all.
Mel Grossman is a local resident of Xenia.