There was no reason for me to set foot in my parents bedroom. They never told me to stay out, I just knew I had no business being in there. I also knew that’s where they hid the Christmas presents.
In 1962 the WWII drama series Combat debuted on ABC. Members of an American infantry squad fought their way across France, battling Germans with a realism not typically seen on early 1960s television. Following the heroic feats of Sgt. Chip Saunders and Lt. Gil Hanley was the Tuesday night highlight of every nine year old boy in the neighborhood. We all wanted to get our hands on a M1 Garand rifle, just like the one carried by the American squad—and that rifle was the only thing I wanted for Christmas that year.
It can be hard at times to tell the difference between opportunity and temptation, especially for a nine year old.
With my older siblings out doing whatever it was that they did on Saturday evenings, and Mom and Dad at the shoe store with my little sister—I seized the moment. Knowing they kept our presents hidden in their bedroom closet I beelined straight to it. Quickly scanning the pile of wrapped gifts, I spotted one on the top shelf that looked to be just the right size. I pulled it down and found my name on the gift tag. This almost had to be the rifle, but to be sure I carefully opened the end of the wrapping. There it was.
I glanced back at the clock; Mom and Dad probably wouldn’t be back for another half hour. There was time for a quick peek. I slowly slipped it out from its wrapper and opened the box. It was a thing of beauty—a perfect replica of the real deal. Holding it in my hands made me feel invincible. I crouched down and scampered through the house, bobbing and weaving my way into the kitchen and out the back door as if I was storming the beach at Normandy.
Then it happened! The door closed behind me with a sharp metallic click. Mom and Dad must have locked it when they left. I could get out, but not back in.
I ran around the outside of the house hoping to find an unlocked window but good old Dad had the place sealed-up like a coffin. With no way in and knowing that they’d be home soon, I began to panic. There seemed to be only two options: I could break one of the small glass panes in the door, reach in to unlock it, and put the rifle away before they returned; or I could do the honorable thing—the thing Mom and Dad would have expected of me. I could wait for them outside with my rifle in hand and fess up to my shameful conduct.
Darting over the broken glass scattered across the linoleum floor, I threw the rifle back into its box. Quickly but carefully I pulled the wrapping over it. I then taped the end flaps closed and repaired the few small tears in the paper. After placing it back on the shelf I took a quick look around the room to be sure I wasn’t leaving any evidence behind. I spotted the gift tag lying on the floor at the same moment Dad’s car came rolling up the driveway. I tucked the tag in the pocket of my blue jeans and ran to meet them at the back door.
There was little time to come up with a proper lie, but I gave it my best shot. They didn’t believe I accidentally broke the glass with the broom handle while sweeping the floor. After all, why would any nine year old boy sweep the floor without being asked? Dad said, “Sweep up this mess and try not to break another window in the process.” He then headed out to his shed to search for a piece of replacement glass.
Although it seemed I had gotten away with it, it felt like I hadn’t. Mom never said a word, but on Christmas morning she looked at me as if she knew. The thrill of unwrapping that rifle was snuffed out by an overshadowing feeling of guilt. I had tainted the joy of Christmas morning.
I also realized that honesty, trust and forgiveness were essential components of a loving relationship. The only one of those I could claim to possess was Mom’s forgiveness. I needed to work on the other two.