The first Christmas I remember vividly occurred in 1963.
I was age 4.
My brother Bob was age 9.
The nation was still in shock from the assassination of President Kennedy the previous month, but I was too young to be affected.
All I knew was that I wanted a bright red toy fire engine.
And my older brother wanted a new bicycle.
We shared a small bedroom. I can remember my brother waking me up in the dark. It must have been 4 a.m., perhaps even earlier.
“Let’s go see if Santa has been here,” he said.
We quietly walked to the living room. Under the tree was that bright red firetruck and a new bicycle. Our Christmas wishes had been granted.
Too excited to contain ourselves, we began riding our new treasures up and down the hall that ran through the middle of our home.
I forget if our older sister got up to check on her gifts. She was a teenager by then and likely highly annoyed that two little brothers were interrupting her sleep.
I do remember my mother making Bob and me go back to bed for a few hours. Figuring that you could reach both God and Santa through prayer, I also remember saying a prayer to thank Santa for the fire engine.
Two months later, my parents took my brother to Pine Bluff to see our beloved Ouachita Tiger basketball team play in the NAIA District 17 Tournament. Bob was killed in an accident on that final day of February.
I would spend no more Christmas mornings with my older brother.
On the fireplace mantel of our Little Rock home, there’s a framed black-and-white photograph of me — with a huge smile on my face — riding in the toy fire engine in the driveway of my parents’ home in Arkadelphia.
I never look at that photo without thinking of Christmas morning 1963, about 4 a.m.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. I loved to pretend I was a fireman back then, and I would wind up marrying the daughter of a career fireman.
Not only that, we would have two sons. Austin and Evan are four years apart in age. Bob and I were five years apart.
Evan has been fortunate enough to grow up with an older brother. They’re not only brothers, they’re best friends.
Austin is a senior in high school now and will be going off to college soon. So I’ll stare at that photo on the mantel again late Christmas Eve and give thanks that I am with them. I was blessed that the fireman’s daughter and two sons became a part of my life.
I’m going to take a few days off from writing in order to spend time with them. I’ll be back next week to talk about football, food and all of that other fun stuff.