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One present on Christmas Eve turned out to be very special

By John Toth

The Bulletin


Christmas Eve always has a special meaning to me.


As a child in Hungary, we opened all our presents on Christmas Eve. That was the big night. Then we spent all day on Christmas playing with them.


My parents were poor factory workers in a country that was not far removed from World War II, went through the 1956 revolution and was occupied by Russian troops that crushed the revolution and stayed.


My parents weren’t any different from millions of others. The whole country was poor. Those who said the right things and joined the communist party had more, but not all that much more.


My parents never said the right things and never joined the party. They didn’t say the wrong thing, either. They just existed, and then I came along in 1955.


There were family complications also, but a lot of that was caused because of our poverty status and the scars of WWII. We managed the best we could.


Instead of buying a soccer ball, my mother sewed together an old sack stuffed with newspapers and some heavier materials. It never felt anything like a real soccer ball, but we played with it in the yard. None of the other kids had a real soccer ball, either.


I never got a soccer ball for Christmas in Hungary. I should have asked for one, but I never did. I always left it to my parents to surprise me with whatever they could find and afford.


One Christmas I walked into our room with the Christmas tree in the corner that was all lit up with real candles. Under it, was a big box.


I was opening it while keeping one eye on the candles and made sure that nothing was blocking my way to the front door, just in case. The gift was a metal erector set my parents bought from one of their friends, whose kid probably got tired of playing with it.


I liked it for a while, but it wasn’t really the type of toy that blew me away. Soon, I got tired of screwing together a crane or something that resembled something, and the erector set just sat in a corner. I’m sure it made its way under someone else’s Christmas tree the next year. I hope whoever got it is now a retired mechanical engineer or architect, and my disinterest in the toy helped him get his start - or her start.


By the way, the candles were eventually blown out and removed from the semi-dry tree. It was a total miracle that the room on that night didn’t go up in flames.


I give credit to my poor parents. With all their personal problems, and then the escape plans that got my mother and I out of that Soviet prison of a country in 1966, they always managed to surprise me with something on Christmas Eve.


Some people tolerated living under such oppression and got along to get along. It was a simple and comfortable existence for some. But not for my mother, who wanted out and found a way to do it with me.


On the night of Dec. 24 each year, I knew that I was getting a present, even if it was an erector set. I truly tried to like it.


That’s one reason why Christmas Eve is always special.


Since you have read this far, I’ll tell you another reason - the most important one in my life.


 On Christmas Eve 1981, I got on my knees at my future mother-in-law’s living room and asked Sharon to marry me.


It wasn’t that much of a surprise to her because we had been talking about it for a few months, and we picked out a ring together in Victoria, where we both lived and worked at the time.


She didn’t know how I was going to do it or when. I thought that Christmas Eve was appropriate. That was the night when only good things happened - like that  Christmas tree with lit candles not exploding in flames.


We were at her mother’s house in Harlingen. So, while she sat on the couch sipping non-alcoholic eggnog, I popped the question and waited for an answer.


Her mother was more surprised than Sharon. It was a great evening. She said yes. We were married six months later.


Merry Christmas Eve and Christmas, dear readers. I hope you make some nice memories, like I did on a very special Christmas Eve.

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