Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21
Think back on your past Christmases. Which one stands out the most? Why?
On December 24, 1983, I did one of the single most foolish things of my life. Of course, I was 14 years old, and probably the top 80% of my life’s foolish things happened during that year, but this is the one that sticks out in my mind the most.
For those of you who are over 40 years old, you can remember a time without computers, and the great excitement in the early 80’s surrounding the introduction of the PC, along with video games, “car phones”, and other electronic stuff. At the time, we didn’t know that every computer device would be outdated within six months of purchase over and over again for the rest of our lives. Instead, we thought once you bought a computer, like a television, you would keep it forever (by the way, we just acquired a Black Friday TV at Walmart to replace our original “marriage” television, which was second-hand when we received it. I think it was nearly 30 years old!).
Two years previous, my parents had given my brother and me an Atari 2600, which could play video games through our home television – a big console TV with knobs and no remote. We got 4 stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) until I left to go to college (go figure!). So, a video game option was a big deal, when Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk were the only things to watch on Saturday evening. We played the 2600 to death, until the Atari 5200 replaced it later. All of a sudden, it seemed the sky was the limit on home-based computerized gadgets, and I got wind of another unit you could hook up to your TV that would allow actual computer programming. I wanted it!
Looking back now, it was a cheesy little machine that really couldn’t do anything. You could enter in a few commands, and it would take text (>, / , – , +) to make a rocket ship that would blast off the screen, or some other equally lame thing. But, for a 14 year old boy in the dawning age of computers, it was all I had on my wish list for Christmas.
Now, I have two younger brothers, one of whom is 9 years younger than I. So, at 5 years old, my parents were still playing the Santa game with him, and we all had to go to bed early to participate in the charade. In our home, we had hardwood flooring in our main hallway (carpet everywhere else) that would creak when you stepped on certain planks. My bedroom was the last room on the right, so you had to walk the entire length of the creaky floor to get there.
I stayed awake in anticipation of my new computer, and could hear mom and dad rustling around the living room, placing gifts under the tree for the three boys. Then, around 11:00, they creaked up the hallway, and into their bedroom for a long winter’s nap. The house sat quiet for about 30 minutes, and I figured my parents were asleep. It was time to check the loot! But dad was a notoriously light sleeper, and the creaky hallway would give me away if I tried to sneak a peek at the presents. So, I came up with the brilliant idea of sneaking out the window, running around the house to the back door, and using the hidden key in the garage to get in the house. It was a foolproof plan.
One item of interest here is that on December 24, 1983, Catawba County (I grew up in the eastern part of the county) set a record for cold. The temperature got down to 3 degrees farenheit that morning (I just went online and checked to be sure I am telling the truth), and 2 degrees that night. So, as I slipped out the window, it was probably around 8 degrees outside. I was only wearing sweatpants. No shirt. No socks. I figured I would only be outside for 15 seconds or so, and I was in too big a hurry to get dressed. I shut the window behind me so that no cold air would get inside.
I ran around the house in the excitement that my plan was working, when I got to the garage door. For the only time I can remember in my whole 10 years of living in this house, the outside garage door was locked! We always left it open in case someone got locked out, because the hidden key was inside the garage. My flesh was quickly hardening out in the elements, and I sprinted back to my window, which wouldn’t open from the outside. It was one of those old, wooden windows that you had to hit with a mallet to get it unstuck, and even worse, from the outside, there was nowhere to grab to put any pressure on it.
So, I decided that my only chance of survival was to go into our tool shed and wrap up in the old mattress we kept up in the loft. I did this for about 10 minutes, but my feet became painfully tingly, so I needed another option. Since I was in a toolshed, I decided to look for something that could pry open the window. I know you are thinking, “Why didn’t you just ring the doorbell?” Are you crazy!?!? My parents could not know, under any circumstance. Death was the better option. Remember, I was 14 years old. As a matter of fact, I didn’t tell my mom about this until about five years ago.
After some searching, I found a big, thick flathead screwdriver. By now, it was painful to walk on my bare feet, but I made it back to the window, and started prying. Slowly, I was able to get the window open, and crawled back in. The air in my bedroom felt like Miami Beach after being outside for 30 minutes. I had left a little black and white television on in my room to muffle the sound of opening windows, and when I came back inside, the Pope was ushering in Christmas day over in the Vatican. For what seemed an eternity, I rolled up in my bedsheets shivered. My feet ached with intense pain as they thawed out. But, in the end, I survived this ordeal to be able to tell it today.
The next morning, I woke up, having no idea whether my present had arrived or not. I was just happy to be alive. The ice on my window was a clear reminder of how close to my doom I had been. I could barely hear the creaks as I walked down the hallway, since the rest of the family was already awake (I was 14). As I rounded the corner to enter the room, there it was. My most memorable Christmas present ever. Not so much because it was great, but more because of what I went through the previous eight hours because of it.
Looking back now, I quickly think of how dumb I was to act so foolishly over such a silly thing. I only remember playing on it a few times. It really wasn’t much fun. Funny how I totally remember almost dying of hypothermia, but have virtually no memory of the object of that suffering. But, it is a good indicator that I really had little grasp on the reality of Christmas. My treasure was not laid up in heaven. Instead, it was laid under a tree in the living room, which literally left me out in the cold.
To be continued next week…