Memories of cherished gifts from Christmases past
It wasn’t the most dazzling gift under my family’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning of 1962.
That status belonged to my shiny new fire engine red Murray Missile, the first bicycle I ever owned. My wide-open seven year old eyes could see nothing else that wonderful day.
Yet there it was, a smaller gift in a small rectangular box.
I’m sure I ripped into the wrapping paper enthusiastically and pried open the tape that sealed each side of the box to reveal its contents: A black Concordance King James Bible- the red-letter edition- with a binding zipped cover for easy travel.
Inside, lettered in my mother’s handwriting, were the simple words: Presented to Kent Bernhardt by Daddy and Mother, Christmas 1962. My brother and sister received one too.
In the eyes of a seven-year-old, receiving a Bible for Christmas isn’t a banner event. In fact, at the time it probably rated right up there with wool sweaters and, heaven forbid, underwear. Only the coming years would reveal its value to me.
I flipped through a few pages and delivered the obligatory “Hey thanks Mom and Dad” before tossing it back under the tree, as my attention diverted back to the Murray Missile.
It gleamed in the light of the tree that early Christmas morn. It had everything – even “twin mounted headlights mounted in a custom built head assembly” so I could ride it night! Nothing could stop me now. And no other presents were visible to me that day.
I must have logged ten miles Christmas day alone.
Like a teenager with his first car, I felt a new sense of freedom. I could go anywhere on my new Murray, and it truly was a Missile. It shot through the streets of my hometown like a bullet, and navigated the shortcuts through select backyards with ease.
Near the end of that Christmas day, exhausted from my journeys, I reviewed my bounty under the tree including my new Bible. I discovered that it contained quite a few colorful pictures. There was the infant Moses being saved from the Nile, the crossing of the Red Sea, the slaying of Goliath by David, all in vivid detail.
“Neat”, I thought. And back in the box and under the tree it went.
In the coming months, my Murray and I were inseparable. Trips to the soda shop, grocery store, and Post Office were a breeze. My Bible remained in the box.
I still can’t explain how it happened to this day, but one fateful afternoon I was on my way home from a friend’s house when I spotted a neighborhood boy headed toward me on his bike. In my version of the story, I was in the right and proper lane, and he was headed straight for me.
I can only assume he thought I would move, and I certainly thought he would. But neither of us did.
What happened moments later remains to this day the only recorded incident of a head-on collision on Brotherhood Street in the town of Faith’s history. Suddenly in the middle of the street, there lay two bleeding boys and the remnants of two brand new bikes.
The sight of my mangled Murray Missile horrified me. The front wheel was a total loss. The front fender – a crumpled wad of metal. Gone forever were the twin mounted headlights. They would illuminate the streets no more. Even the back fender hadn’t escaped the fury of the crash.
Bleeding legs and arms were of no concern to me. They would heal. But I had lost my Murray, and that pain wouldn’t go away.
In 1962, we didn’t replace broken things, we repaired them. My industrious dad totally disassembled, repaired, painted, then reassembled the salvageable parts of my treasured friend. To my amazement, it was the coolest looking bike in town. I rode it for years. I never wanted or needed another one.
Though at my side until well into my teen years, it couldn’t stand the test of time. As my desire for two wheels was replaced by the desire for four, my Murray was relegated to the elephant graveyard of family bicycles; my grandparents’ basement. I think it made its way to the curb for garbage pickup sometime during the 80’s.
That’s the way it was with most of the coveted Christmas gifts of my childhood, except for one.
That Bible I mentioned earlier.
It soon made it out of the box and onto my bookshelf. It often traveled with me to Sunday School during my childhood, and sometimes even at home, it was just darn good reading.
It went with me to college, and made the journey to my first apartment where it met its first life-threatening challenge.
While stored briefly in a cardboard box with some other books and notes, it suffered the effects of a leaky drainage pipe, which soaked its contents and damaged the binding. My mom’s inscription is somewhat faded now, but then again so am I.
But it stands today as a testimony to what really lasts in our lives through the years. It’s the only gift I have ever received that truly stood the test of time, and actually became dearer to me as the years marched by.
I read that particular Bible less today, only because the print is somewhat small and reading from a Kindle is kinder to my 57-year-old eyes. But I keep it near. I like the look and feel of my old friend. It’s like me, a little cracked and creased around the edges, but somehow still as potent as ever.
Christmas gifts don’t get better than that.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.