A S C R A P B O O K O F S O L U T I O N S F O R T H E P H O T O G R A P H E R
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25 December 2016
We had an epic battle with the Christmas tree this year. It's always a real tree, which we've picked usually only after going to several tree lots, although we've had our favorites over the years. We look for a straight trunk coming to attention at the top and a nice but not bushy profile.
It was slim pickings this year but we did finally find one at the third lot we visited. It had one defect, though. The bottom was more of an elbow than a tree trunk. It was shaped like the letter J.
We wrestled with it in the driveway for an hour, trying to get it to stand up straight in the stand. We're famous tree wrestlers, once inspiring a mere passer-by who saw us wrestling a burly one in our living room to ring the bell to offer assistance.
But we finally figured this one out. It has stood straight as an arrow, balanced on its elbow all week now.
The tree has always been a big part of our Christmas celebration. When we were little, we would stare at the ornament worlds within its branches and the little town that nestled in its "snow" at the base, imagining all sorts of things.
And now that we are as tall as a tree, we look at the same things but instead of imagining stories, we remember them.
And this is one we've remembered for over half a century.
WE WERE A FAMILY OF FOUR BOYS and when the fourth came along, we had outgrown the Doelger post-war house of three-bedrooms. That was miraculously purchased with the money our father's father had set aside for Dad's college education. The G.I. bill had instead put my father through the University of California at Berkeley.
There's a Christmas miracle for you right there. Instead of leaving college with $80,000 in student loan debt, Dad left with no debt (tuition was free and expenses covered by the G.I. bill) and with enough money for a down payment on a new house.
So with four boys, our parents found a larger, four-bedroom house in a new subdivision. That meant a bigger mortgage, about three times what the old one was.
We loved it.
We still shared rooms but there was a lot more room to share, plus a den and a large downstairs rec room with a linoleum floor and big round orange shag rugs we could roll up and remove for dance parties.
It must have been Christmas 1961, the first year we moved in to the new house, that we were old enough for a big boy bike. So that was number one on our list.
We did our research. We flipped through every page of the Schwinn catalog, comparing models before closing our eyes and imagining we were in the saddle, rolling down the new street.
And the one that won our heart was the Schwinn Corvette, named for the famous Chevrolet sports car.
It had the famous Cantilever frame, three speeds, handle-bar brakes, stainless steel fenders, chrome trim (like a car) and came in your pick of colors: red, blue, green or black.
We liked the black one. It was sporty but also formal enough for any occasion.
We were too old to negotiate with Santa about this but as Christmas approached so did Dad.
He wondered what we thought about the Schwinn Tiger. As Dad pointed out, it was essentially the same big boy bike as the Corvette but the fenders and trim were painted.
And the savings, we realized without him saying so, would mean more for everybody. Think about it, was all he had said.
We didn't have the heart to argue our case. Instead, we tried to fall in love with the Tiger.
We folded the Schwinn catalog open to the Tiger page and pretended it was already ours. A blue model with whitewall tires (just like a car). We didn't feel too bad.
It only took a few days to realize Dad was right. It was really the same bike, just not as flashy.
So we told him we had decided we wanted a Tiger, after all. It was just as good.
It was just a few days ago that we did a little research to see what the difference was between the two bikes and why Dad had asked us to think about it.
The 1961 Schwinn Tiger 3-speed with handle-bar brakes, we discovered, sold for $66.95 while the 1960 Schwinn Corvette equivalent sold for $76.95.
Ten bucks? Well, $10 was a lot of money in those days. The Corvette in today's dollars would be $621.14 while the Tiger would be $540.42, a difference of $80.72. Multiplied, eventually, but three younger brothers and squeezed by that new mortgage.
Christmas Eve we listened to the radio reports of Santa's progress on the new built-in radio in the kitchen with speakers in all the rooms. The speaker units also had microphones, too, so they were really an intercom. Carols played on the stereo in the living room and the tree was brilliantly lit with the lights Dad had carefully strung weeks ago.
A Christmas tree never looks so glorious as it does in the darkness of Christmas Eve.
We had our baths and put on our new pajamas and went to bed, too excited to sleep until our excitement wore us out.
And when we finally stirred, it was still dark outside. We peeked down the long hallway to see if Santa had lit the Christmas tree to let us know we could leave our bedrooms.
Somehow all four of us knew just when that was at the same time and we would run down the hall screaming. There under the tree would be piles of presents, more than we could ever imagine fitting under the tree, spilling out into the middle of the room. Some from Santa, others from everybody else in the family, beloved aunts and uncles and even distant family members.
There was no big boy bike under the tree, of course. There was no room for it.
But at that time of the morning, we weren't in analytical mode. We just noticed the bike hadn't made it this year. We kept the smile on our face, anyway, and watched our brothers tear into the wrappings of their gifts, shrieking with joy. "Look what I got!"
"Mike, did you look by the front door?" Mom asked. We hadn't. So we did.
There it was. The Schwinn Corvette. Black with chrome trim. And one in red for our next oldest brother.
The family movies Dad shot later that day show us two older brothers making slow wide turns in the new subdivision's street and coming down driveway curbs as we learned how to control our new big boy bike, our two little brothers standing admiringly on the sidewalk.
We were a little unsteady, being that high up for the first time, but we loved it. We tried all the gears, we trusted the brakes, we turned on the headlight even in bright sunlight.
And when we had had our fill, we both parked or new bikes in the driveway and set the kickstand with our right foot so our little brothers could admire our new wheels. Without touching. Much.
It's been over half a century since that Christmas but when we put up a new tree every year we remember that story as we look between the branches at the old ornaments lit by little lights.
Finding something you love, giving it up, getting it all the same -- plus one for your little brother. Dad must have decided we both would get bikes and was trying to save the equivalent of $160 he could spend on other presents. But somehow he found a way.
It's what being a Dad is all about.
Every year for all these years remembering that story has brought a tear to our eye that sparkles as much as any Christmas tree light or any chrome fender.