I was 7 years old the first Christmas present I ever received. That morning, as I opened the package, I already knew: it was broken.
Here’s what happened.
That year, our family had moved from the farming and mining regions of north Alabama into the mountainous coal fields of West Virginia. My dad accompanied a number of our uncles and their friends looking for work, and they all landed jobs in a coal camp just outside Beckley. With a steady paycheck, this year for the first time in my brief life, the six children in our family would receive Christmas presents.
One Saturday early in December, Mom and Dad made the difficult trip into town and returned laden with boxes and bags. They hid everything in a closet and warned us away. “Not until Christmas.”
A few days later, when our parents were out of the house, my older brothers found the stash. “This must be for you,” they said, handing me a box containing a lovely golden tractor. This would be my first brand-new toy ever. It was a magical moment. I examined it lovingly. With a windup key, the track could be made to pull the tractor. I twisted it, and it worked–a few times.
Then it broke. No doubt it was simply shoddy workmanship. But to a 7-year-old, this was major stuff.
I had the sad and difficult task of returning the tractor to the box to be re-hidden in the closet, then awaiting Christmas morning knowing that my present would be a disappointment.
When the morning came, I faked excitement. We never let on to our parents that we had broken into the gifts early or that my tractor would not work.
No doubt I was not the first to be disappointed on Christmas morning.