Chalk To Czechoslovakia
By William H. Frohlich Copyright 2012
Christmas in the Frohlich house was always marked by lots of food but few presents. I tried to tell friends that Christmas gifts were pretty limited in my house, even without brothers and sisters. It wasn’t that my mother, the maker of Christmas, was against giving me gifts. Her stance was that being an only child meant I got “presents” all year long as I had no competition. But, I was sure there had to be more good stuff to Christmas than a few toys and the mandatory sox and underwear.
The Christmas I was five I got my first two-wheeler, a bright red Huffy… and I was severely disappointed. I tried to hide it from my parents. Although I couldn’t yet ride a big-boy bike, I was already considering what my friends would say: “A Huffy! What’s that?!”
“Yes,” I would have to say… but I knew in my heart, it wasn’t a Schwinn.
I remember my mother coming to my rescue the day after Christmas when a friend bashed me with that phrase as he road circles around me on his new Schwinn. She stood up proudly thrusting her fists to her hips proclaiming, “It’s a Huffy… the Cadillac of bicycles!” Now at five, I wasn’t quite sure what a Cadillac was, but it sounded like it must have been the Mercedes of automobiles. I’d have to make new friends.
Although the new Huffy was my Christmas gift, there was actually more! My father, the devout reader, insisted that my mother always buy me a book for Christmas. I didn’t get my father’s genes in this matter. My copies of “Huckleberry Finn,” and “Tom Sawyer,” Christmas presents all, remained unopened and in pristine condition throughout my early life.
Every year as Christmas approached, I became adept at peeking in my mother’s closet. When I was 10, I found a six transistor radio hiding there. That was about two weeks before Christmas. I told all my friends what I was getting to make them jealous. That’s when I found out that six transistors weren’t enough.
The next two weeks dragged on. And then, of course, Christmas became the most anti-climactic day of the year. Besides sox and underwear, the radio was my present… that was it. I feigned joy that Christmas and played the radio sitting in our darkened basement next to the artificial Christmas tree that blinked into the night.
That Christmas morning, my mom, sensing that one radio wasn’t really enough, reminded me of my stocking. My heart leaped for joy! I raced up the stairs and tore into the living room to snatch my stocking from the mantel over the fireplace. This was the only piece of Christmas allowed on the first floor… but the stocking wasn’t stuffed with presents! Actually, it looked pretty empty.
“Maybe there’s a piece of paper in there telling me of a great big present in the garage,” I thought, “…or an IOU for some game the store was out of.” I dug deep into my stocking before my mother rounded the corner from the basement steps. I reached into the stocking and found my gift: A fifty-cent piece.
My uncle Victor and family came for dinner that Christmas, as they did every year. He had heard about the fifty-cent piece. “Wow!” he jibed, “I heard you got fifty cents in your stocking!” I wasn’t sure where he was going with this.
“Yeah,” I replied quietly.
“Ya’ know, when I was a kid…” Now I knew exactly where this was heading… it was a variation on same theme he held up every year. It didn’t matter what the kids got, we’d hear about him growing up during the depression, getting an apple for Christmas that had pennies stuck in it… yada, yada, yada.
I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but I blurted out, “I bet I could buy lots of apples with this fifty-cent piece!”
“You bet!” he taunted as his son, Vic junior, saved my dignity by yanking my arm out nearly of its socket as he toted me into the closed-in porch. My cousin Vic, being 12, spent most of his time reading comic books and fanaticizing about girls. He told me stories about these strange creatures, and about what they had, or didn’t have, “down there.” I was mesmerized, but didn’t believe half of it.