The Ghost of Christmas Past

Christmas is by far and away my favorite holiday of the year. I love everything this season represents and it brings back so many incredible memories of my childhood. Looking back over my life I have been very blessed to have had some incredible Christmas gifts and experiences.

My parents were incredible. Growing up they instilled upon us the spirit of giving and service. I can remember watching it snow and then sneaking out with a shovel in hand to clear the walk for a neighbor hoping to not get caught but also hoping to see the look on their faces as they saw their walks and driveway clear. There was no more special feeling than that service.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression we were angels and were always looking to do good. That was definitely not the case although it should have been. No, we had more self-serving motives I must admit.

On the one hand, we did enough damage around the neighborhood with trampled bushes and flowers that could not withstand the trampling of several boys playing football to the countless windows that were broken by an errant baseball we had to make up for all of that the best way we could.

Besides, when the snow began to fall that meant Christmas was coming and as every kid is well aware late November to mid-December is a time when you can’t take any chances of Santa writing your name in ink on the naughty list.

Christmas was also a time for dreams. As Thanksgiving came and went we would eagerly watch the mailbox for the annual arrival of the Sears Wish Book and other catalogs that had the most amazing items for sale to make every kid’s Christmas magical.

I remember my brother and I scouring the book page by page earmarking the things we most wanted dropping not so subtle hints to our parents. It was a time of great creativity. How many kids could somehow weave Hot Wheels, G.I. Joe, and bicycles into breakfast conversations without sounding rehearsed or like a Saturday Morning commercial played between cartoons?

As you get older your thoughts of Christmas change. Your level of wonder and amazement dwindle to a certain extent. Instead of visions of sparkling toys and stockings filled with sugary delights you think about the cost of the holidays and how you never have enough time to enjoy the season.

But once in a while something comes along that makes you stop and reflect about simpler times. That happened to me this year in a most unlikely place. I was sitting at my computer wading through mountains of email mentally complaining about all of the unwanted mail I was getting and how I could get out of inbox jail.

There in the midst of messages about hair restoration and the removal of moles (the skin type not the burrowing rodents) there was a non-descript message from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I will admit I have bought items from Dick’s but would definitely not consider myself one of their preferred clients. Normally I would glance at the message and quickly delete but this one caught my eye.

In the full color email was a dream long suppressed in the back of my mind, one I hadn’t thought about for over 40 years. I stared at the email mesmerized by the eloquent prose and more importantly by the graphic contained therein.

There it was, my equivalent of Moby Dick. That mythical creature that drives a man or in my case a young boy to fantasize about untold adventures. No, it wasn’t a harpoon and I didn’t suddenly have a desire to pack my bags and head to the nearest port looking to book passage on a whaling ship. But this was just as compelling as the story of Captain Ahab.

Looking at the email I was transported back to when I was young and had the dreams of many young men to own the most amazing method of transportation ever designed. And here it was calling my name again – the Schwinn Grey Ghost.

Back in simpler times we would long for self-sufficient transportation that we could call our own. No longer would we have to ask mom for a ride nor would our excursions be limited to as far as short legs and small strides could carry us. We would be free to travel the open road with the wind in our hair and the taste of bugs in our teeth.

And what a godsend to our parents. They would be freed from the chains of being a taxi driver shuffling us from school to baseball practice or to the store. In fact, we would be happy to leap onto our trusty bikes and ride to the grocery store to pick up that loaf of bread or gallon of milk we needed. The possibilities were endless.

But the Grey Ghost was more than that. It was a 9-year old’s equivalent to owning a Corvette. The sleek lines of the frame, the patented banana seat or the killer suspension that would allow us to leap over small children or curbs with the comfort of a soft pillow. It was by far the coolest bike ever made. About the only thing that would compare would be the Apple Krate, Orange Krate, or Lemon Peeler but those were a far second to the Grey Ghost.

Despite my best efforts leaving pictures of the Ghost in the newspaper, stuck to boxes in the kitchen, or even mentioning it nightly during prayers it wasn’t enough. The Grey Ghost was rare. A kid had a better chance of stepping outside and finding a unicorn tied to the swing set than they did of getting a Grey Ghost.

I pulled out all the stops even making my mom take me to five different department stores to meet Santa banking on at least one of those guys being the real Mr. Claus or getting word to the North Pole.

Alas, all of my work went unrewarded. First of all, getting a bike for Christmas was ill-advised. In Idaho winter began in October and lasted until April so a bike in winter was unrealistic. Bikes were more of a birthday thing when snow was melting and you couldn’t see your breath every time you walked outside.

I kept up my sales pitch continuing to plug the Grey Ghost every chance I could get but it didn’t seem to matter. I did get a bike for my birthday and it did have a banana seat and ape hanger handle bars. It was a Spyder and I loved it. I spent more time on that bike than I did any other in my whole life. And while I was grateful to have it, each time I rode it I secretly dreamed it was a Grey Ghost.

Now here I was well past the prime of my life. I have everything a man could ask for. I have a loving wife and amazing children and have been blessed more than I deserve. But looking at that email and the picture of the Grey Ghost I cannot help but wonder what might have been and what adventures would have been like riding that amazing bike.

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