Column: My son’s favorite Christmas memory

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Columnist Ceil Abbott

When our son was 5 years old, my husband and I moved to a small house outside of one of the bedroom communities that surrounded the Illinois-Iowa community known as the Quad Cities.

We rented a home on a large property owned by the local road district commissioner. The landlord and his wife were great people and soon became almost like surrogate grandparents to our son.

Since my husband worked for John Deere and the landlord used a field near our garage for storing the district’s road equipment, my son’s fascination with any thing designed to move large quantities of dirt was all encompassing. He loved the great big green and yellow combines that his father built and was absolutely crazy about the bulldozers, road graders, large dump trucks, etc. that were frequently parked just a few feet from our driveway.

Our landlord, Bob, was a gentle giant of a man with a slow easy going demeanor and exuded endless patience when answering the million and one questions our son, Jon, always seemed to have each time a new piece of road equipment arrived.

He was so fascinated by any motorized piece of equipment that was connected to agriculture and/or earth moving, that by Thanksgiving he was begging Santa for every piece equipment he had ever seen.

He never could remember the individual names of the road equipment and just called them all “diggers.” And, whenever I tried to teach him the proper name he would insist that Santa knew what he meant.

Those northern Illinois winters of the 1970s were especially fierce and by early December we were buried in snow and suffering through temperatures in the single digits. Still, a week or so before the big day, the temperature warmed enough, that my husband managed to erect and light a six-foot tall pine tree just outside our front door.

On Christmas Eve it snowed again, and the next morning ripped through all his presents and was happy with the John Deere tractors, etc. that he received, but disappointed that Santa hadn’t left any “diggers” under the tree. So after breakfast, he began pestering me to allow him to put on the new bright blue snowmobile suit he had just unwrapped and let him go out and build a snowman.

I let him out the back door and watched as he trudged through the hip deep drifts on the patio. Then as I closed the door, I heard a scream of delight followed by a wild pounding on the front door.

I hurried through the house and opened the door to see my laughing five-year-old pointing to a pile of gifts under the outside Christmas tree. There was a plastic road grader, a plastic bulldozer, a hard hat and a huge metal Tonka dump truck big enough that Jon often used it as a riding toy. Although the gifts weren’t wrapped a note hanging on the tree read, “To Jon, From Santa.”

Neither my husband nor I had bought the gifts and there were no impressions in the snow to give us any clues as to how they had been delivered. And, when questioned the landlord insisted that the only gift he had purchased for Jon was the small plastic farm set he had delivered a few days earlier.

So where did the gifts come from? I still don’t know, but I have my suspicions and one thing I know for sure whoever put those gifts under that tree gave my son a Christmas that even today, at the age of 40, he remembers with delight.

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