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COLUMN: A memory from Christmas past


Now that I’m retired, I like to go to auctions, flea markets and yard sales. You just never know what you will find. 

Yesterday, as I was sorting through a box I had bought, I found this old beat-up matchbox car — sparking a memory and flooding me with emotions from years ago.

When I was at Southgate School in Mr. Mundy’s fifth-grade class, we had a Christmas party with Secret Santa. Boys would buy for boys, girls for girls. We all drew each other’s names and we would exchange presents on the last day of school before our Christmas vacation.  

My Mom took me to Korvettes to get a toy for the kid whose name I had drawn. When we got home, I wrapped it myself with lots and lots of tape. 

The next day at school, all of us were excited — we couldn’t wait to see what gifts we would receive. Finally, an hour before school ends, we have our Christmas party and Secret Santa. The kid I drew for really liked the present that I gave him. 

It was a different story for me.

My Secret Santa was a kid that no one really knew or liked. He had only been in our class for a week or so. None of us kids knew anything about him. 

He had wrapped the gift for me in a Newsday newspaper. When I opened it, the car was dirty and well-played with. I was mad. I had given a nice present wrapped in nice paper. 

At the time, I thought this kid had put such little effort into what he got for me. I felt gypped. On the way home, I threw it in the garbage. 


The first day back from Christmas vacation, I noticed that his seat was empty. After a few days went by, I asked Mr. Mundy what had happened to him.

It was then I found out the real story.

He lived in the worst house in the neighborhood in a basement apartment. His father had left them years ago. His mother had been sick for a long time and she had died over Christmas. They had no money for heat or food.   

The matchbox car that he gave me was the only toy he had to play with. I was also told he was sent to foster care then to be transferred to an orphanage. 

To this day I wish would have been able to see him again.

I would have given him some really nice toys that I didn’t play with anymore and been his friend. I would have introduced him to all the other kids, too. 

My Secret Santa had given with his heart all he had. It made me realize back then and now: It is not what you get, it’s what you give.