Each year we send a reporter out to ask children what they want for Christmas, and to balance it off we ask adults to tell us about the best gift they've ever received.
I'd never really put much thought into it myself, but it occurred to me during the rush this year that perhaps my most memorable Christmas gift was my first bicycle.
Yeah, I know. That sounds like a trip into cliche-land. But let me tell you about this bike.
We grew up pretty modestly out in Winfield, a lot of us packed into a tiny little four-room house. My older brother usually woke me up early Christmas morning, and the two of us would sneak in to the living room to check out what Santa had brought.
One particular Christmas, as we rounded the corner about 4 a.m. to peek into the room, there it was: My first bike.
I was probably about 9, I guess. And the bicycle seemed enormous. It clearly was intended to last a long time, giving me plenty of room to "grow into it," like my jeans with six-inch cuffs rolled up.
The bike was a 26-inch with high-rise handlebars, a banana seat, a sissy bar and a rack on the back. And it had a battery-powered headlight. I'm sure the bike was the best one available at the Otasco store that my Uncle Howard ran.
The next day, my friend Bryant Thomas and his sister, Charlotte, rode their new bikes to the house - quite a feat, since they lived about three miles away.
Bryant and I decided to have a drag-race down the dirt road. I think I was winning when I hit a rock and crashed hard enough to break off my headlight and knock everything crooked on the bike.
Boy, was my dad mad. But he fixed the light and straightened everything out.
The next summer, that bike was my magic carpet to freedom. When we weren't picking peas or bailing hay, I was riding all over the back roads of rural Columbia County.
Sure enough, that bike was big enough to grow into. I later tricked it out and turned it into an unwieldy "chopper" with extra-long forks, and once rode it from Appling to Harlem.
Times changed and life moved on at a faster pace than a bike would carry me, and it eventually was left behind somewhere in my tumultuous teen years. But the sense of freedom and wonder it brought will stay with me forever.
Help is here
If you're among those still trying to figure out what to get that hard-to-shop for person still on your list, I've got some ideas.
Guys, I wouldn't suggest giving these to your wife. And if you do, don't say I didn't warn you.
- Compact fluorescent light bulbs. Seriously. These "green" bulbs save money by reducing energy bills, so they're the gift that keeps on giving.
But they aren't cheap. Replacing a house full of incandescent bulbs would cost a bundle. As a gift, though, you can buy a pack or two of four or six bulbs, and give someone a head start on saving energy.
- Batteries - but only in huge quantities. Do you know how annoying it is to need a battery for the TV remote and you can't find one in the house? Of course you do.
For not much more than about $25, you can get bricks of batteries from AAA to D. Be sure to include some 9-volts for the smoke detectors. Pile it all in a big, plastic utility bucket; everyone needs one of those.
And if you want to stick with the green theme, give a battery charger with multiple sizes of rechargeables.
- A final idea? Buy a five-gallon gas can, fill it up and tie a bow on it. Just don't carry it in the house when you give that one, OK?
Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope you find a bike under your tree.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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