Quiet Desperation

Longing for a Christmas that was very long ago

Column by Craig Marshall Smith

A young father handed a clerk 30 dollars in a department store in Uniontown, Pa., and the clerk gave him a Sad Face Fire Truck, a pedal car that Murray made back then. It was too big to wrap, so it was kept out of sight until Christmas morning.
I came out of my bedroom with sleep still in my eyes, and that made the tree lights look like they were sparking. It might have been our best Christmas. I was still a few years away from becoming a brooding loner — I was just a happy little kid — and I was living with Ozzie and Harriet.
I wish I still had that pedal car. I know I can find one online, because I have looked. They go for almost $500 or more now. But it wouldn’t be the same, because they all belonged to someone else.
I think it was my “Rosebud.” If you have seen “Citizen Kane” you know that “Rosebud” was Kane’s boyhood sled. Maybe you know that the name was the director’s inside joke. Ask someone else.
Christmas is almost completely lost on me now. My favorite classical station played “O Holy Night” on the day I wrote this, more than three weeks away from Christmas. Some of my neighbors had lights and decorations up before the end of November.
“During the four days beginning with Thanksgiving, 141 million people shopped and made $57.4 billion in purchases at stores and websites.” That’s 58.5 percent of the voting age population.
In 2012, 57.5 percent of the voting age population voted in the presidential election.
There is something wrong with this picture, but there is something wrong with a lot f our pictures. I’m just happy that I didn’t know there was something wrong with so many of them when I woke up that morning in Pennsylvania and saw my pedal car, and the other gifts that were wrapped and ribboned.
I wish I had a Super-8 of my father buying the pedal car, and I wish I knew what he was thinking. He was a Buick salesman at the time, and was married to his high school sweetheart. They met in Mount Morris, Michigan, dated, became engaged before he enlisted, and were married on an Army Air Corps base in Hobbs, N.M.
He flew 30 missions in a B-17, returned, and started a family. Our black-and- white, family, Christmas photographs in the 1950s were all smiles. That changed, just like it does in many other homes.
My parents argued, and I became introverted and ornery. I couldn’t wait to go far away to college. It didn’t get any better when my sister divorced twice, or when I began to drink in my 40s.
“How Can We Hang On to a Dream?” is a song composed and recorded by Tim Hardin, who died in 1980. The song is about a woman who is “walking away,” but it’s a good question to ask about lots of things we have lost, like merrier Christmases.
All I have now are memories and photographs. My mother and father died in 2008. Toward the end we were all exchanging equal-amount gift cards, and eventually we weren’t exchanging anything at all, because there was really nothing better to give each other than each other.
That’s why I don’t understand the stampede on Black Friday, or the anxieties about last-minute shopping. Maybe we give gifts to make up for something that’s missing in a relationship.
A few years later, the pedal car’s place was taken by a red Schwinn. But every Dec. 25, I wonder where it is, and I miss it.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net