Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas - 1978

It was the Christmas of 1978. I was  seven years old and excited as all get out about Christmas morning. At the time, I still lived in the northern part of Maryland, on the farm where I grew up. I had yet to lose a part of innocence of my youth and was still completely enwrapped in the wonders of the world.

I still had an enormous unrequited crush on a girl in my school named Ruth. When I wasn't exploring the woods surrounding the farm, or making hay forts in our barn, I was listening to my mother's old 45 records like Lobo's Me and you and a Dog Named Boo or Sam the Sham and the Pharoah's Hey there Little Red Riding Hood.

It was the era of In Search of with Leonard Nimoy, and Fantasy Island (maybe THAT'S where my obsession with midgets started?), and the Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby.

And I wanted nothing more for Christmas than a new bike.

When I grew up, we definitely went through a poor period. I had a lot of second hand clothes (and a pair of purple, flowered jeans... maybe the last dregs of the flower child years?), and a bike with a banana seat that had the American flag on it. I grew up loving yard sales and thrift stores because if you dig hard enough, you can find treasures like old comics or paperbacks with tattered covers that let you escape for a while. 

But this year, things were started to look up a bit. As kids sometimes do, I woke up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. I crept downstairs, trying to avoid all of the many creaks and cracks the old farm house held, and peeked into the living room, across the hall from my parents bedroom.

I do believe, at 7 years old, I mouthed the words "Holy shit!" when I saw the Christmas tree. There were packages there - a lot more than I'd seen when I went to bed - and a suede leather coat and an M&M candy cane sticking out of my stocking and the tell-tale bulge of a book of Lifesavers and some action figure dude with white hair and a clear chest (and is that blood pumping in his chest? How freaking COOL!) and...and... oh, for the love of St. Nick... a stallion. A glistening, gleaming, polished, beautiful thing.

A brand new black and red Team Murray bike, parked by the right hand side of the tree, its handlebars cocked to the side, waiting.

I have no idea how I fell back asleep that night, and to be honest, I can't even recall if I did or if just went back upstairs and looked at the ceiling until the morning light started coming into my windows and it became an "acceptable" time for me to come downstairs and wake my parents up.

The first time I put my hands on the grips of the bike was magical. I'm thinking it's the equivalent of an adult getting their first new car. It was unblemished. Untouched. Unridden. 

And mine... all mine.

My mother made me try on the new winter coat, and though it was the coolest coat I'd ever seen (dark suede with faux sheep wool interior... looked like something Robert Redford would wear), the leather was thicker than football leather and I recall having a hard time actually bending my arms and the coat itself felt like it weighed a good 40 pounds), I wasn't interested in anything but that bike.

My father helped me get it downstairs and out onto the front porch and when I hit the ground, I was gone. I was the Lone Ranger, man. I was Evel Knievel and the Fonz and Captain America all morphed into one.

I've certainly experienced some moments of feeling free in my life. You know what I mean... those instances where you feel light and free and untouchable, weightless and no longer beholden to the moment at hand and the pressures of the world.

I'm in my forties now, but I don't think I've ever experienced a moment as carefree and full of light as I did when I pedaled that Team Murray bike down the long dirt driveway of our farm and felt the crisp December wind against my face. I distinctly remember closing my eyes for a heartbeat or two and just experiencing it for what it was, trying to commit that feeling and capture it.

That was my Christmas at 7, and though that bike served me well over the years, I don't think the new winter coat got nearly as much mileage. (I'm sorry Mom and Dad... you two did amazing on all of my presents but that jacket made me feel like a knight in a suit of armor). 

I hope all of you readers and friends and family have an amazing holiday season. I hope you get everything you want - the tangible and the intangible. I hope you feel the love that you cannot put into stockings and boxes and put a bow on.

But above all, even if it's fleeting... even if you have to close your eyes for a moment to capture it... I hope you all are able to feel free and lifted and enjoy the wind against your face.

love and light, and best wishes for 2014.
Bob Ford


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