I remember it as though a Norman Rockwell painting had come to life.
My dad, mom and I were walking downtown Visalia. A light snow was falling. My mom was in her heavy-fur collared, fashionable jacket wearing a light pink mauve velvet hat laced with pearls and beads. My dad was smoking his cherry blend tobacco with his handmade walnut pipe wearing his dark brown fedora and London Fog trench coat with the collar flipped up to protect himself from the cold. All three of us were holding hands as we nonchalantly strolled from store to store.
To be honest with you, I am not totally sure how they were dressed that long ago evening. I am almost positive it wasn't snowing. I think watching the then-brand new television show "Leave It to Beaver" somehow encouraged my yearning to be like the "Cleavers" and tainted my young memory.
But that is how I remember my earliest memories of Christmas. The year was about 1957.
I did go for an evening walk with my mom and dad that long ago Christmas. I remember each store had its own Santa Clause.
I asked my mom, "How could there be so many Santa Clauses?"
"That's because these are all Santa's helpers," she whispered as we walked past another department store Santa. "The real Santa Clause will come Christmas Eve," she affirmed.
As best as I can remember, I must have been around 7 years old. I wasn't quite sure why I had the special treatment of being alone with my parents that chilly evening. After all, I had my older sister, Rachel, older brother Willie, and younger siblings, Andy and Espie, who would love an evening alone with mom and dad and to be the sole focus of their attention. I must have been a very good boy, I thought.
As we walked to each store, they asked me what I would like for Christmas. I pointed to things like a Schwinn Red Phantom bike, the Captain Kangaroo Tasket Basket, and the Davey Crockett leather jacket and raccoon hat. They casually asked if I could only have one, which one would it be? I peered into the storefront window and saw a Roy Rodgers toy gun, leather belt and holster. I said, if I could only have one, Roy Rodgers would be it.
We indifferently walked away from the window and my 7-year-old memory completely fades from that point until Christmas morning. We didn't have many presents under our tree. There was actually only one for each of my brothers and sisters.
What I did not know was that my mom and dad had individually taken each one of my siblings out for his or her own special evening. Not knowing that our wish would be granted, each one of us got to pick one item we really wanted for Christmas. So although we all had only one gift under the tree, it was something we told our parents we really wanted. And we couldn't be happier.
When I opened my present, there it was...my Roy Rodgers toy gun, leather belt and holster set.
I would not say we were poor when we grew up, but I do remember doing without things many of my friends took for granted. As a parent now, I now understand why we each got to pick only one present.
That evening with my mom and dad is my earliest memory of Christmas. The Roy Rodgers toy gun, leather belt and holster are long gone, but that evening alone with my parents made me feel so special that 56 years later, I still cling to that as one of my most treasured Christmas memories.
As a parent now, I hope my wife, Susie, and I have created many non-material Christmas and other memories for our children. It is a nice way to honor the memory of my mom and dad and helps guide us to what many believe to be the true spirit of family, especially during the holidays.
I hope your holidays are blessed with a loving family, good health and compassion for those most in need.
Happy holiday memories from my family to yours.
-- Steve Flores is a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at email@example.com.