It was the year 1924; I remember it well, I was 12 years old. My Uncle Paul and I were about town tending some errands my grandmother needed done. We walked up and down the street peeking in shop window and chattering about the coming holiday. I knew times were tough, so presents were not expected in abundance.
As we walked we came to a shop window with a beautifully decorated suitcase, meant for little girls. Next to the suitcase was a pair of white ice skates. The blades shone so brightly, you could see your face in them. My heart skipped a beat. I loved to ice skate and mine were falling apart. My uncle noticed me staring into the window with such intensity it appeared I’d climb into the window if I could.
“That suitcase is beautiful, isn’t it Clara?” he smiled and his eyes sparkled with delight as he looked down at me.
I glanced back at the window, “Yes, it is nice.” I tried to be enthusiastic.
“You like those ice skates better, don’t you, Clara?” nothing escaped his notice.
“Oh no, I like the suitcase just fine Uncle Paul.” The suitcase was less money by far. I could not allow him to think I preferred the skates.
We turned and began our walk back to his truck and return home with the errands completed for Grandma. “So did you like the skates or the suitcase better?” He pressed me.
“No really, Uncle Paul, I like the suitcase.” I lied, but thought it would be better than making him think I wanted those expensive skates when we could not afford them.
At last, he quit asking me about the skates. I hoped he would forget. We continued our drive home in silence. The subject never came up again over the next few weeks until Christmas.
Our time was spent preparing the home for family and guests who were to come and celebrate with us.
Christmas morning came upon us rapidly. Uncle Paul did not bring up the subject again, much to my relief.
Sweet smells of fresh cinnamon rolls wafted up to my room, calling for me to hurry on down for breakfast. I found my slippers under my bed, grabbed my bathrobe and ran down stairs before my brother could get the biggest roll.
We enjoyed our traditional breakfast of cinnamon rolls and fresh-squeezed orange juice. When done we moved to the family room where our little tree dad cut in the field stood, decorated with popcorn and homemade ornaments. Under the tree were several packages wrapped colorfully in tissue paper. My brother and then my sister were handed one package each which they opened respectively.
When they finished I was handed my package. Uncle Paul sat across the room his eyes dancing and the corners of his mouth turned up. I held the package in my lap and gingerly fingered the string holding the tissue in place.
I slowly untied the string, removed the wrapping. With the paper removed, I opened a box that revealed the suitcase from the shop window. My eyes fell but I forced a smile and lifted my voice, “Uncle Paul, thank you it’s beautiful.” I rose to my feet and walked over to give him a hug.
“Did you check inside to make sure it’s the right color?” He stopped me before I reached him.
“I’m sure it’s ok Uncle Paul, really.”
“Please, just check.” His insistence challenged me to comply. I turned back to the suitcase, knelt down beside it, and flipped the latch to open it. I choked back tears, both of shame and surprise.
I had sulked over the past weeks since first looking in that store window. My heart complained about our meager financial means. Now here I was, staring down into the suitcase I had seen in that window which was now acting as a case for the ice skates I secretly wanted.
Uncle Paul came over and lifted me into his arms. “Sweet Clara, you must never lie to me, or anyone else for any reason.”He knew me so well.
“But they’re so expensive.” Tears soaked my cheeks.
“Yes they are, but you need them if you’re going to skate as beautifully as you do. You work so hard through the year, I thought you deserved them; Merry Christmas.”
I threw my arms around his neck and drowned him in my tears, “Thank you Uncle Paul, I love you.”
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