By Steve Novotney
I was misbehaving. A lot. And I was told I was on the naughty list.
But that meant nothing to me because the Santa secret was out, and I didn’t believe my mother. Over and over again, she warned me, but I failed to care as a 12-year-old-know-everything kid. I was too cool to behave. Ornery was my way of life, and I liked it.
In December 1978, I was a paper boy for 60 customers in the Woodsdale section of Wheeling. On weekdays, I delivered the newspapers in the afternoon after school, but on the weekends I had to awaken early for morning delivery. On Sundays and holidays, my father always helped me because the editions in those days were larger than normal thanks to holiday advertisements.
But on this Christmas morning, my father refused to assist despite the fact the streets and sidewalks were snow-covered just as they were most of the time that winter. I was told to take the wheeled cart to the front porch instead of the living room. So I put the ads and cartoons together with the day’s edition, placed the papers in the cart, and off I went. I delivered to homes on Lorraine Terrace, Edgwood and Walnut streets, the Edgwood Club, and Woodlawn Court.
I had a system, and I followed it that morning, too.
As I walked up and down the stairs to each porch, I still did not believe my mother and father would cancel my Christmas. I couldn’t have been that bad, right? I mean all I ignored were my mom’s constant requests for cleaning my bedroom, hanging up my clothes, putting dirty garments inside the hamper (as opposed to a hallway jump shot), and not walking on the carpet with muddy shoes. That’s not a lot, right?
Upon my return to my home on Lorraine, I folded up my cart, put it where it belonged on the front porch, and went to the front door.
It was locked.
Knocking didn’t attract an answer.
I had to ring the doorbell, and then my father swung open the door and walked away.
Our front door led to a foyer. To the left was the dining room, and to the right was the living room where the Christmas tree stood.
As I walked into the house and looked around, I was stunned to discover that Christmas, for my older brother and younger sister, had taken place. They both just stared at me.
I looked at my mother, and I can still recall her disappointed face. My father was the first to address me: “Steve,” he said in that do-this-now tone, “Get a garbage bag and clean up all of that wrapping paper.”
I looked over at a very large pile of the prettiest wrapping paper and bows I had ever seen in my short life. My siblings had just experienced the most glorious Christmas in our family’s history. My brother’s list was completely satisfied, and I believe my sister received more than she even asked for.
I sulked my way to the kitchen in absolute disbelief. What had I done? Do they all hate me now? No Christmas?
I returned to the living room, and by then my brother and sister had resumed playing with their new toys. The pile of paper was situated in front of the mantel, and I scooped and I scooped and I scooped armfuls of those beautiful bows and colorful paper into the garbage bag while wishing I could have opened just one present.
As I neared the end, I noticed something at the bottom of the pile. It was some sort of box, and I knew it wouldn’t fit in the garbage bag. I asked my mom, “What do I do with the box?”
She replied, “Just get the paper cleaned up.”
Yup, she was angry with me. I mean, angry – the kind of emotion not often seen unless you crossed a line by an unbelievable mile. I had only seen that look a few times and not one of those occasions worked out well for me.
I immediately turned to what remained of the pile and finished. I then examined the box, realized it was unopened, and reported to my father. “I think someone missed one.”
He replied, “Well, see what’s in it, and we’ll know whom we missed.”
I pulled my penknife out of my pocket and cut the tape on the top and then on the sides, just as my dad had taught me. After I pulled the lids open, I saw it. It was it. The one thing I wanted for Christmas. The National Panasonic three-in-one stereo complete with a turntable, cassette deck, AM/FM stereo receiver, and the ability to record vinyl onto something called a cassette tape.
And they must have bought it for my brother.
I swung around to my mother with incredible disbelief. How could they?
And then my mother said, “Merry Christmas, Steven.”
So it’s for me? The stereo I asked for and prayed for? The one thing I had considered actually sitting on Santa’s lap once again hoping for some kind of good luck?
I rushed to my mom and hugged her tightly. I knew tough love was better than no love.
She then said, “Now when I ask you to do something, will you please do it?”
“I will, I will, I will, I will … I promise.”
Of course, I failed to keep that promise as a child, but on that Christmas Day I certainly did. I immediately picked up my new stereo and hauled it into my second-floor room. I knew exactly how I would set it up, but when I approached the dresser on which this miraculous unit would rest, it was covered in clutter. I looked around the room, and it was a mess with clothes strewn everywhere, and notebooks, a basketball, a football, a bunch of baseballs, and my glove were all over the floor where I had tossed them.
I placed the new stereo on my unmade bed, and I cleaned my room. Dirty clothes deposited in the hamper; church pants and shirt hung in the closet; books and notebooks returned to the shelf; and all socks and shirts and sweaters folded and placed in their proper drawers.
And then I plugged IT in, and for the first time in my life I could listen to my treasured LP records all by myself. For a few years I had been forced to use the record players my parents had in the living room and in the basement, but on this day Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” sounded sweeter than ever before.
And then KISS? “Calling Dr. Love”! I was rocking in my own sacred haven, and it was glorious.
My mother soon checked in on me once she heard the music blaring from my bedroom.
“Oh my Lord, you made your bed.”
And that’s all she said. She didn’t even order me to turn the music down. Not at that time on that day.
For my mother, I believe she believed she had witnessed a Christmas miracle.