In fifty-two I was five and believe it or not things were
different then. I was in kindergarden and just at that age to
start doubting Santa's identity. But I didn't. Not yet. My father
ran a service station for Shell Oil. I say service station
because that's what they gave you then, service. For the price of
the gas they'd wipe your wind shields, check your battery, water,
and oil, even your tires. For free. Yes modern America, for free.
My Dad had always been good with his hands. I remember them well.
They were rough and calloused, and deep in his fingerprints was
the black of the many miles of roads America had even then. No
matter how much he scrubbed them with soap the black never came
out, like America itself, it was too ingrained in him.
My father worked hard, and because of that, so did my mother. She
was from Missouri (Misery she called it,) and he was from Dorothy
and Toto's Kansas. Working on cars was the work that dirtied him.
The combination of road dirt and oil was tough to remove from the
snow-white uniforms Shell wore at the time. White pants, white
shirt, white captain's hat with a gold shell on a red field in
"What do they think he is, a sailor or a mechanic?"
Mom would say that every time she did the laundry. Every time.
That's how I remember.
She'd wake up every morning Monday through Saturday at four, to
wake him up and feed him by five so he could open the station by
six. They'd both come to California in the early forties to work
in aircraft factories during the war. That's how they met. Hard
working, full of jobs, that's how the U.S.A. used to be. Back
before out-sourcing, way back when Americans did all their own
work and were damned proud of it. "American made" meant something
back then. It meant quality.
He worked hard and was on his feet all day long. So about two
weeks before Christmas she got him some new shoes to relax in.
Appropriately enough they were called loafers. I suppose she
expected him to loaf around in them. I noticed right off they
were so new they squeaked when he walked.
So Christmas Eve came and while on the way to bed I asked could I
go get a drink of water.
We had a water cooler on the back porch.
"Don't drink too much Steven, you'll pee the bed."
I didn't like that my Mom said that. Mainly because I never did
pee the bed yet she told me every night anyway. My Mom had been a
Master Sergeant in the WACs. Always good at giving orders. If you
knew what was good for you, you followed them to the letter.
I put the cup down on a large unfamiliar box in the corner then
went back to my room and crawled into bed. She came in to tuck me
in. My mom was good at tucking me in by now she'd had five years
practice. My dad was in the living room reading the paper. He had
plenty of practice at that too. I'd make him read me the funnies,
like Alley Oop, the Katzenjammer Kids, the Little King, on
Sundays. Like Blondie and Dagwood and Little Abner. You get my
drift. It's an old drift isn't it?
"Now tomorrow is Christmas Steven, so you get some sleep."
As if I didn't know.
Then she'd plant a soft kiss on my cheek and close the door.
I'll mention right here that I was excited, so excited I thought
I couldn't sleep at all. But I wrong. I was asleep in mere
seconds. I didn't stay that way for long.
Around midnight I woke up. First I thought I heard sounds for the
roof. Nope, that wasn't it. Then I noticed they were coming from
the other side of my door. I turned and looked. The crack under
the door showed the light was still on. And it wasn't the
clip-clop clip-clop of reindeer hoofs I was hearing.
It was," Squeak squeak, squeak squeak."
My Dad's loafers, that's what it was. Feeling secure I went right
back to sleep.
The next morning I came out and was still wiping the sleep from
my eyes when I noticed a brand-spanking-new tricycle next to the
tree. All glittery and sparkling and chrome.
The unmarked box on the back porch was gone.
Even a kindergardener knows one and one equals two.