The Christmas I Grew Up
An Underwood manual typewriter was all I asked for that Christmas. At the indestructible age of twelve, when anything is possible, I knew I was a writer. Not a great one, but someday I would be.
I wrote short adventure stories starring my friends and they asked for more; long epic poems that my mom read, every word, then encouraged me to write another. All of my writing was done with a #2 pencil on lined school paper. But I believed any writer worth their salt needed an Underwood. The smell of the inked ribbon, the clacking of the keys, the resounding thud of the carriage return would all add to my inspiration. I would look the part of the novelist, sitting at my desk, dedicated and typing. New, better writing was sure to follow.
There were five of us living off my father’s salary as a mailman. Money was scarce. While dad walked his route, twice a day, no matter the weather, mom took care of the large garden, did the canning, mended our clothes and supplied us with library cards. I’d discovered being lost in the other time and place of a good story. I told myself I could do that. I could write like that.
I’d asked for the typewriter as my only gift; suggested that mom make it a combined Christmas-birthday present. My birthday is two weeks after Christmas and she’d done this before. But, a brand-new Underwood was a lot of money, money we didn’t have.
A week before Christmas my brothers were up the street playing; no girls allowed, especially not their kid sister. Their loudest complaint was, I asked too many questions and was always underfoot. Our house was small. What did they expect?
Mom and dad went into town. “For just an hour,” they said. “Would I be alright?” I promised I would be. I leaned on the back of the couch, looked out our big front window and watched them pull out of the driveway. This was my chance. I’d never gone snooping for Christmas presents before, not once in all my twelve years.
I stood in front of the door to their bedroom. It was off-limits. If I took the first step there would be no turning back. My tongue stuck to the dry roof of my mouth and the thought of sneaking into their room made me light headed. I opened the door. The hardwood floor was cold through my socks as I walked to the closet and pulled open the bi-fold doors. The hinges squeaked and I cringed. I could feel my dad behind me even though I was alone in the house. I reached for the string to turn on the light and gave it a pull. There it was, at the back of the closet; a brand-spanking new, glossy, black Underwood. I pushed my dad’s shirts aside, knelt in front of it, brushed my fingers over the keys, took a deep breath and smelled it newness. I would come to a greatness Hemingway and Steinbeck had never reached.
I was bursting with excitement, so filled with joy it poured out of my eyes and flushed my cheeks. As quick as it came it faded. I couldn’t share my happiness, not with anyone. This was a secret I had to keep. The sacrifice my parents made to purchase this gift humbled me. They would be disappointed and heartbroken if they knew I’d broken their trust. I caressed the beautiful typewriter one more time then got up off my knees and put dad’s shirts back just as they’d been before. I eased the closet door shut, listened for the click as the hinges locked into place and left their bedroom ashamed.
The next week was the hardest I’d ever lived through. On Christmas morning I gave my parents the gift of my joy and surprise. I could’ve been an actress. They had no idea I’d already spent my excitement alone in their closet a week earlier. I never went looking for presents again.
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