“Skateboard Christmas!” Friend, Dec. 1992, 30–33
It was in the middle of November, when I was looking for a yardstick in Mom and Dad’s closet, that I found the skateboard and other Christmas presents hidden behind a box and a bag of old clothes.
I had ached all over to have a new skateboard because the best skateboarding hill in the world was over at Adam’s Park, not two blocks away.
My best friend, James, and I went there every chance we got and used a skateboard that we’d bought together at Tilly’s Secondhand Store for five dollars. It was small, banged up some, and had metal wheels that squeaked and rattled as we bumped down the winding walk at the park. But this skateboard wasn’t something Mom and Dad had picked up at Tilly’s Secondhand Store!
Sitting in the closet, I ran my hand across the skateboard’s shiny, smooth surface and spun the red “poly” wheels. There was a picture of a guy flying through the air on a skateboard, and underneath, in brilliant red letters, was “SPEED DEMON.”
“I found my Christmas present!” I called out as I rushed up James’s driveway and found him trying to fix a back wheel on his little brother’s trike.
“Christmas?” he muttered, looking up at me and zipping his coat tighter around his chin. “Who’s thinking of Christmas? We haven’t even had Thanksgiving.”
“I accidentally found my parents’ Christmas gift to me,” I gasped, dropping down beside him.
James set his pliers down and squinted at me. “What’re you getting?”
“A skateboard! Not a crummy one, either. You know the one we’ve looked at in the window at Benson’s Bargain Barn?”
“It’s as good as that one any day.”
James whistled softly. “And it’s yours?”
“With four sisters who could care less about skateboarding, it has to be mine.”
“A skateboard!” James whispered, shaking his head. “You’re a lucky dog, Aaron.” He grinned, and I knew he was happy for me, but I could see a hint of disappointment in his eyes because he knew that there would be no new skateboard for him.
Since Dad had been on just sick pay for several weeks, we hadn’t had much. But James’s family was poor all the time. His mom was a cashier at the supermarket. On Saturdays and some evenings, she cleaned people’s houses to get money for clothes and stuff like that for him, his brother, and his little sister. He didn’t even know where his dad was. James never expected much for Christmas.
That night as I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, I thought of James. I was happy about my skateboard, but I knew that having a skateboard wasn’t going to be all that great unless James had one too.
I tossed and turned, then started figuring. I’d already bought my family’s gifts, except the ones I was making in woodshop at school. The skateboard at the Bargain Barn cost over ninety dollars. I had twenty-seven dollars, money I’d been saving for months to buy a baseball glove. I had a set of baseball cards that Brandon had been coaxing me to sell him for fifteen dollars. I was sure that I could collect ten dollars’ worth of cans by Christmas. That was fifty-two dollars right there. And I could do odd jobs for folks in the neighborhood.
I had nearly six weeks till Christmas, and I was going to get James his own skateboard! Suddenly I was more excited about James’s skateboard than I was about the one Mom and Dad had tucked away for me in the closet.
“Do you still want to buy my baseball cards?” I asked Brandon the next day at school.
He stared at me. “You’re willing to sell?”
I nodded again.
“You have those cards over at my place this afternoon, and I’ll have your money for you.”
As soon as school was out, I sprinted home, dug my baseball cards out from under the bed, and galloped over to Brandon’s place. He had his money ready for me. Of course, Brandon didn’t ever have to worry about money. He was the only kid in his family, and his mom and dad gave him just about anything he wanted.
I checked with everyone in our neighborhood about doing odd jobs. Brother Tubbs let me clean out his garage. Sister Wells had me rake leaves and trash from her backyard. I took care of the Parkers’ dog and two cats and watered houseplants while they were gone for a week and a half.
Two weeks before Christmas I had seventy-two dollars. With my money stuffed into a bag, I entered the Bargain Barn. “I know the skateboard costs ninety-five ninety-five,” I said to Brother Benson as I pushed the bag across the counter, “but if you’ll save that skateboard for me, I promise to get the rest of the money to you as soon as I can.”
He thought a moment, rubbing his chin and gazing at my money. “Aaron, you must want that skateboard pretty bad.”
“I’m getting it for a friend.”
“He must be a pretty good friend.”
“The best a guy could have.”
“I’ll save the skateboard for you.” He hesitated, then added, “I could use a little help around here between now and Christmas. Maybe I could help you earn some of that money.”
“Would you?” I asked, hardly believing my ears.
Brother Benson’s eyes twinkled. “I think we could work something out.”
For the next two Saturdays and some afternoons after school, I worked at the Bargain Barn. I broke down cardboard boxes for recycling, straightened up the storeroom, swept the parking lot, ran errands, and did anything else I was asked to do.
“I can’t find my Christmas presents anywhere,” Brandon complained the day before Christmas vacation as we walked home from school. “Usually I’ve found where Mom and Dad have hidden them by now. They always give me one big thing that I really want, and clothes I need, and other stuff, but I haven’t found anything, and I’ve looked all over.”
I shrugged. “Why not wait and be surprised like everyone else.”
“Don’t you ever wonder what you’re getting for Christmas?”
A smile pulled at the corners of my mouth. “I don’t have to wonder this year. This is going to be my best Christmas.”
“Well, Aaron,” Brother Benson said the day before Christmas Eve as he was closing up his store, “you’ve been a real trooper. When I told you that you could work here for a few hours, I didn’t know you were going to give me such a hand.”
“How much do you figure I still owe on the skateboard?”
Brother Benson chuckled. He stepped into his office and returned with a huge oblong box, wrapped in silver paper and tied with red ribbon. “You’ve earned it,” he said, handing it to me.
I took the package with shaking hands. I could hardly wait to see James’s eyes bulge when he saw his gift.
Christmas Eve was a busy day. I helped Mom make cookies and candies for neighbors and friends. We finished doing a few decorations around the house—the Christmas tree had long since been decorated. There weren’t a lot of packages under the tree, but that didn’t bother me because I knew that the best gift was hidden away in Mom and Dad’s closet.
It was well after dinner before I could take my gift over to James. I rushed to my room, pulled the silver package out from under the bed, and ran my hand gently across the paper. “You’re going to love it, James,” I whispered. “We’ll both be skateboarding pros.”
I got up, threw on my coat, grabbed my gift, and rushed down the hall toward the back door. As I burst into the kitchen, Mom and Dad were there, and the skateboard was on the table. I froze in my tracks.
“I wish we could afford to buy one for our son,” Dad was saying to Mom, shaking his head and staring at the table.
Mom shrugged. “Janet just wanted to surprise Brandon for once, so she asked me to keep his gifts. Every other year he’s found his presents weeks before Christmas.” She laughed. “She told me yesterday that they’re sure he’s searched their house a dozen times and is pretty worried.”
“This is Brandon’s?” I asked, feeling sick.
Mom turned and saw me. She nodded. “His mother’s on her way over to pick all these things up.” She gestured to a pile of packages on the counter as well as the skateboard. “Where are you headed, and what’s that under your arm?”
“I was going to see James,” I rasped. “I have a gift for him.”
“OK. It’s nice of you to think of him.”
After I rushed out the back door, for a moment I stood in the driveway, clutching the skateboard. I’d never had a skateboard as nice as the one under my arm.
I can keep this one, I thought to myself, and find something else for James. No one would know. I deserve a good skateboard after I worked so hard. Then I thought of James and how fun it had been working to get something nice for him. And I knew that I could never truly enjoy this skateboard, knowing it had really been meant for him.
Slowly the sick feeling went away and a warm, peaceful feeling took its place. It was the same feeling I’d had since deciding to buy the skateboard for James. I started for his house.
“What is it?” James asked, surprised, as I pushed the huge silver package into his arms.
“Open it and see.”
“I won’t be around to watch you open it tomorrow,” I pointed out.
James hesitated, then tore the silver paper away and gazed at the skateboard. His mouth dropped open. “Are you joking, Aaron? You’re not really giving this to me, are you?”
“It’s all yours, James.”
“But—but how? … Why … ?”
“You’re my friend, and I knew you’d want one.”
“What’s yours like?”
I shook my head and laughed. “I found out that Brandon’s mother had asked Mom to hide that one for him. But I think yours is the best one around.”
James’s smile drooped. He pushed the skateboard toward me. “Aaron, I can’t take something as nice as this. But thanks for offering.”
“You have to take it,” I argued. “You can’t give a Christmas gift back.”
For a moment he just stood there holding the skateboard, blinking back tears. Then he said, “Half of it is yours, then.”
I shook my head.
“I’m giving half of it to you, and like you said, you can’t give a Christmas gift back. It will be ours together. And the day after tomorrow we’ll try it out at Adams Park!”
I nodded, fighting back tears, too, then headed home, knowing that no one—not even Brandon with all his gifts from Santa and his parents—would ever have as nice a Christmas as mine.