The Best of Times

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That line from the Charles Dickens’ 1859 classic A Tale of Two Cities, has been used by more folks looking to author a subject than there are light bulbs that shine in the Opryland Hotel during Christmas. It seems those words that Dickens penned those many years ago never fail to hit the spot on how you feel about a subject. While going through some old photographs of myself recently, and finding one of yours truly with my first new bike at Christmas on a snowy front porch, I remembered that time just like Mr. Dickens quoted more than 150 years ago.

When I was small, just like every other child does even today, I asked for the world when Christmas came around. Things were simple on our farm. Our house consisted of four rooms, none of which included a bath or plumbing, a coal oil heater for the entire house and just enough for the needs of a family of three children with a mother and father. To some it may not sound like all that much, but as a kid growing up, I think I had everything I needed, just not everything I wanted.

That particular Christmas, I had just about worn the pages out of a Firestone catalog, which contained a really nice Firestone 500 bike that I could just see myself on, speeding down Dead Man’s Hill and taking Suicide Curve at the bottom at top speed. Of course, both of these were on the newly oiled and chipped gravel road in front of our house; so named by my cousin and myself the past summer after we both cleaned out the ditch numerous times. My mode of transportation had been a faded-out used girls’ bike my father traded a dog for so my sister could have it years before and then it was passed down to me. The frame had problems that us manly types didn’t like to discuss and my Christmas dreams were often those of a new bike with red and white streamers on the handlebars.

It had been a good holiday time so far. School was out and I had received numerous packets of firecrackers from my classmates. Yes, this was back in the time when popular kids could get fireworks at school from their friends for presents and you brought them home placing each packet on the mantel so they would bang louder when lit. Strange how times have changed. The warnings were few, the kids were kids and a boy knew how to twist several of the little devices together to send tin cans into the air. Of course, we also knew how to operate without indoor plumbing, play only with sticks and rocks and our heroes rode horses and never lost a fight. Guess that was part of the best of times.

Christmas Eve arrived, which as a kid was always the longest day of the year. In our family, my mother and father for some reason always left the farm to go to town that day without us. It always followed a few days after selling our tobacco crop and they usually were in a good mood. I don’t know if it was the holiday, me at home with my brother and sister or what the crop brought, but they each always enjoyed that one day heading out in the old faded blue Ford.

I spent the afternoon shooting firecrackers under cans and between rocks. All of a sudden, it began to snow like something from a greeting card. I continued to play outside in the snow expecting my parents any minute. The snow fell harder and became deeper, causing me to go into the house. My sister was left in charge of cooking our Christmas ham and the smells of the season were gathering. But, as the snow fell more and more, we began to wonder if Christmas would come since our parents were several hours past due.

Waiting and watching from the front room which held the lighted cedar tree, I finally could see the lights of the old blue Ford cut through the snow coming up to the house. Driving right to the front porch, they arrived just like Santa’s sled and it felt like a real Christmas more than ever. All of us in that four room house, snow outside, Christmas and love inside. It was the best of times.

The next morning, sure enough, Santa must have also put in a good crop that year, because a Firestone 500 bike was there near the tree. The only one I ever had and still have hanging on the shed wall with me at the age of 67. Still enjoying the best of times along with the worst.

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