The Best Christmas Gift of My life

by on December 28, 2020 · 4 comments

in From the Soul

by Ernie McCray

Someone on Facebook posted “What’s the best Christmas gift of your life?”

My answer was swift: a bike.

I’ll always remember the Christmas it became mine. It was in 1947 when I was nine.

That morning, though, I was down as down could be. Because my mother had led me to believe (and she had never ever deceived me) that this Christmas there would be a bicycle under the Christmas Tree for me. But when I woke up that was not the reality.

I was crushed, to say the least, and I couldn’t hold my feelings inside and if my family had been an ass whuppin’ kind, my mother had a reason to tan my behind…

And after a little time of me giving my mother and the world a piece of my mind she says to me, giving me “the look” mothers flash when they’ve had enough of your ungrateful ass: “Shut your mouth and put your new jacket on. We’re going to Sergeant Hudson’s house to wish him a Merry Christmas.”

I quieted myself but I was still beside myself, wondering why we’re going to this man’s house. Now, I liked the good sergeant. He was a dear family friend. And he was fun, a natural born comedian who could make people bend over with laughter listening to his wild stories about World War One, a war that somehow spared him the pain I saw on other old soldiers’ faces when I was growing up. Maybe he was laughing to keep from crying.

Any way you look at it, though, he was a wonderful man. He let me pick peaches off his tree and ride on the sideboard of his car and he paid me handsomely when I helped him with his chores.

But none of that matters when your heart is broken, when your faith in humanity has crashed, when your mother, in your mind, has strung you along. For what, you don’t know.

I wanted to die when Sergeant Hudson greeted us on his front porch, a vision of holiday spirit, wearing the pointed hat of his military days, saying “Let me get that door for you, son” – and when it opened I was suddenly a boy overwhelmed “with tidings of  comfort and joy” as right in front of me and in front of a Christmas Tree was a blue Schwinn with white trim.

My mother stood watching me, as I danced to the tune of my happiness, with tears on her face, having just re-won my faith in her. We hugged each other’s cares away and “before,” as they used to say, “you could say Jack Robinson” I was out the door pumping away.

I’ve never been more happy and I don’t think I’ve ever doubted my mom since that day, having learned a little something about love and trust and friendship and such.

And I rode that bike from daylight to darkness, everywhere: up “A Mountain,” flying like the wind back down to town; out to the rodeo grounds and the greyhound racing grounds; out to Randolph Park where the Cleveland Indians trained; on the campus of the U of A.

It was so freeing, as I could give way to questions that came to my mind as I biked here and there, comparing where I lived in a Black part of town, near a Mexican American Barrio, with neighborhoods I was now getting a good look at, neighborhoods where I could not reside, so many of them with beautiful colorful gardens and two car garages and spacious driveways.

And I wondered what it was about me that they wouldn’t want me to live next to them when I was smart and nice and well-mannered (minus moments like having a mental breakdown on Jesus’s birthday).

Similar thoughts rose up as I wheeled by swimming pools where I wasn’t allowed to swim and schools that I couldn’t attend.

It was confusing to me that people like me were seen as “not so smart” when I had, that year, with other of my peers, represented Dunbar, the all-Black school, in a win against White schools on a radio quiz show.

How could we be considered “less than” when our school had the best teams, the best chorus, the best majorettes and the best marching band?

But life unfolds in stages, and my bicycling in my boyhood, like my world travels as a man, let me gradually come to realize that there all kinds of sides to people, that we, no matter where we exist in the universe, are more alike than different, that there’s a lot of love in play in the world even when it doesn’t seem so.

Such thinking, thankfully, has enabled me to open myself to different surroundings and experiences as a pathway to having a pretty nice life.

I owe so much of that to a bike.

The best Christmas gift of my life.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mat Wahlstrom December 28, 2020 at 4:01 pm

Great story. I think many favorite Christmas memories involve getting a bike. After I emailed photos of the vintage style new one I bought for myself, which reminded me of an old one in the garage of our childhood home, my father wrote me this:

That bike that was there all these years was MINE! When I was 10 yrs. old we moved to a rental house that backed up to a very big empty lot where we kids spent hours playing cowboys and indians, plus what ever else we could get into. There had to be 4-6 kids who did everything together mostly baseball or just hanging out. One day when we were playing in the lot, I came upon a frame of a bike. It was missing just about everything, tires, seat, handlebars etc. When I came home that afternoon I mentioned it @ the dinner table. Unknown to me Grandpa went out and picked up the frame. Took it to the firehouse, spent that summer and fall getting it ready to make me a Christmas present. To this day I can remember getting up on Christmas morning and finding a bike for me!

Grandpa had restored the whole thing, I think he may had some help from the other firemen (?), had it painted green. The name of the manufacturer was ELGIN, your grandfather took a piece of sheet metal and using a cutter cut out my initials and placed in on the frame. No one in the world ever had a bike named “REW.” I rode that bike in the summer for hours and miles, to Lake Michigan for the beaches we kids went to every day in the 40’s. It was a wonderful labor of love from Grandpa to me.


Tomas Gayton December 30, 2020 at 7:19 pm

My first bike was the first great gift of my life. FELIZ ANO NUEVO HERMANO


Bob Hubba Jubba Moss December 31, 2020 at 7:54 am

BRAVO – BRAVO – BRAVO: What a great story! You know me Ernie, I’m going to redirect the trend and briefly share a most exciting thing that has happened to me this very week. Life for me in the Pine Bluff area has been no crystal stair. My noble credentials, sage knowledge and legendary motivation skills (not to mention the honor of faculty emeritus from UCSD), have been completely rejected by administrator at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff. Across the past ten years, I have constantly rued over this dire and ignorant condition. Prior to relocating in the South, little did I know ebon-hued people here are untrusting of their brothers and sisters from such far off places as California. My bride (Edna) has been urging me to just forget the situation, and be thankful for the 15 years of high quality life we have enjoyed here in Arkansas, with no house or car payments and monthly bank deposits from our Cal Stirs and UC pensions! I have regularly ignored her verbal gestures, however, since just a few days ago, I now agree with her. I have matured my attitude to the words of an old Peter Tosh tune: “I am that I am, I am, I am, I am!” I am also influenced by one of my earlier Hubba-isms: “Why should I hold anything against those who don’t know what they don’t know?” Finally, I came across a Facebook post a few days ago from a senior person urging his elder peers to forgive, forget, respect and love everyone, regardless of the negative thoughts or things they may have cast upon them. What a wonderful topic this has been. While I never had the special thrill of getting a bike during my younger yuletide seasons, I have become a better human being during Christmas season 2020!!!


Robert Deason January 2, 2021 at 4:22 pm

Hello, Earnie:
Good story Earnie, well described. My first bike was also a Christmas Schwinn, red & white striped. To be “cool” at school, I changed the handlebars to upside-down. I remember putting playing-cards on the front fork with clothespins so the spokes would fan them and sound like a motor. I could give friends a ride by their sitting on the handlebars. That’s it, Earnie – nothing exciting, but I LOVED that bike. In my thirties, I lived near SDSC and got an OLD bike and to attend there, and earn a teaching credential. Rob Deason


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