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updated: 1/11/2013 3:15 PM

Christmas memories include gifts of disappointment

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  • Stephanie Penick received this vanity chair for Christmas after hoping the big box contained a bridle with reins and a bit for the horse she was sure she was getting. Her story inspired readers to share their Christmas disappointments and drew a good laugh from her dad.

      Stephanie Penick received this vanity chair for Christmas after hoping the big box contained a bridle with reins and a bit for the horse she was sure she was getting. Her story inspired readers to share their Christmas disappointments and drew a good laugh from her dad.
    Courtesy of Stephanie Penick

 

Little did I anticipate when I wrote the column headlined "You can't always get a pony for Christmas" that many readers would relate to the sad tale of when I was 10 years old.

I was reminded that the dream to own a horse was a fantasy for many young girls, likely influenced by "My Friend Flicka," "Mr. Ed," "Fury" and other popular TV shows from the '50s and '60s -- and most us settled for cowboy hats and boots.

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I ended up with a vanity chair wrapped up in a big box that I just knew was a bridle with reins and a bit.

Some guys connected with my memories, too.

Roger Siebel wrote, "I loved your story. I was often disappointed as a child at Christmas. I'm not sure if I only remember the disappointments."

Siebel recalled the year when all he wanted was a full-sized prize fighter punching bag that would hang from the ceiling. Instead, he received "a kid appropriate one" that stood on the floor.

Another year when he'd asked for a pirate gun to play guns and pirates with his friends, he opened a plastic version, a model his father had glued together to hang on his wall.

"My disappointments made me try to do better on my own children's gifts," wrote the father of three.

All the feedback kept my mind working overtime. In fact, I even dreamed about that wrought-iron chair several nights before we headed to Muncie for the holidays. These days I rarely remember my dreams, but this one remained vivid.

Here's how it went: When we drove into my folks' driveway just after dark, large snowflakes were falling and the blue spruce in the front yard was aglow with new colorful LED lights. Just down the block, the tall aging evergreen the neighbors have decorated for more than 50 years was illuminated in living color, too, reminiscent of my childhood Christmases.

We unpacked the trunk, let Karl-the-girl-dog run around the front yard while we put presents under the Christmas tree inside, then carried our overnight bags to my former bedroom, right next to the guest bathroom.

Much to my surprise, in my dream, when I opened the door to the bathroom, I discovered it was under construction, completely gutted. And the wrought-iron vanity chair had been pitched, too. Then I awakened.

I called my mother that morning to see if I'd had a premonition. She assured me the bathroom was intact.

When we arrived in Muncie on Christmas Eve, the scene was pretty much as my dream except for the snow, though a blizzard was forecast for early Dec. 26.

When I walked down the hallway toward the bathroom, I could see the wrought-iron chair, still sitting in its place right next to the vanity. I grabbed my camera to take a photograph.

I brought my folks up to speed about feedback to my column and asked my dad if he remembered how much I'd wanted a horse.

My sister-in-law, Barbara, had printed out my column and my dad read every word aloud. He laughed so hard in parts, he cried. And so did I.

Of course, he could read between the lines, noticing the implied tension on the home front that often accompanied his last-minute shopping habits.

When he'd finished reading, he added, "And knowing Mr. Crapo, he would have allowed you to board a horse in his barn."

"Now you tell me!" I said.

We laughed.

And it hit me that in addition to my mother's preparing three square meals every day with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables (my folks will celebrate 66 years of marriage on Valentine's Day), another reason for my 89-year-old father's good health is that he laughs. And he laughs enthusiastically.

In fact, few people I know enjoy telling jokes more than my dad. The only trouble is he starts laughing half way through the joke as he begins to anticipate the punch line. By that time, we just laugh along with him.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville regularly in Neighbor.

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