It was 1955, and the eve of the first real Christmas that my sister Mary and I ever had. Daddy and Mama were determined that their two newly adopted daughters would find it filled with love and joy. I was 4, Mary was 2 and the entire process of our “coming to live with” Daddy, Mama and Lamar took place without his ever laying eyes on us.
When asked how he could adopt two children sight unseen, Daddy would answer, “It doesn’t matter to me what they look like. If they need a home, we want ’em.”
Our first two months with Daddy, Mama and Lamar had been joyful, but expensive. We brought with us a lot of needs: tonsils that needed removing, medications that needed to be taken and clothes that needed to be purchased. But, our greatest need was for emotional support and reassurance that this was indeed our home — for life.
The townspeople pitched in. Neighbors hosted a “children’s shower,” the local pharmacist donated the required medications, and someone had even provided a new tricycle for Santa to bring to Mary. As Christmas approached, Daddy’s sister, Florice, secretly put the finishing touches on a set of matching mother-daughter dresses that Daddy knew would leave Mama in tears.
Lamar, at 14, was old enough to help plan the details of how Santa would deliver the new baby dolls, the building blocks that were fashioned in the shop from left over bits of wood, and the special stocking stuffers.
Everything seemed to be in order for the wonderful Christmas celebration — yet Daddy was restless. He couldn’t forget about the small blue bicycle Santa had access to for ten dollars. He and Mama agreed they had spent enough for the time being. After all, there was always the chance our birth parents would reclaim us — a right they could exercise for up to a year.
All afternoon on Christmas Eve, Daddy paced and thought — and thought and paced. He could sense that I had the most profound scars of our past. I was afraid of the dark, afraid of enclosed spaces, and even afraid to go to the bathroom alone. In fact, I was so emotionally scarred that I could not speak an intelligible sentence and often needed Mary to interpret for me.
As dusk began to fall, Daddy told Mama he had one last errand to run and rushed out of the house. When he returned home a short time later with the bicycle (complete with training wheels) hidden in the trunk of the car, he declared, “Heck, if they take Shirley back, they can just take the bicycle, too.”
On Christmas morning, my eyes grew wide as I beheld the beautiful blue bicycle. We immediately went outside for me to try it out. Daddy quickly recognized that I didn’t need the training wheels and removed them. As I began to pedal, he released his hold on the bicycle, sending me off for the first time on the road to freedom. But even as he let me go, he ran alongside me, there to help me if I wavered too far off course. Daddy continued to parent like this for many years – always close by in case I needed a steadying hand.
From that first ride on the blue bicycle, Christmas has held a special place in my heart as I share the gifts of love, encouragement, joy, and the security of belonging. And I am been blessed to be the recipient of an endless supply of these same gifts.
After writing that first story, I realized how much I enjoyed writing. And I realize that the Times-Georgian gave me the training wheels I needed to have the courage to take a new road in life. I am grateful for that gift. This Christmas, I encourage you to recall – and even write – your own Christmas memories. And if you will share them with me, I’ll try to work them into my holiday articles.
Garrett, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian. DrShirl@ShirleyGarrett.com