NORMAN — In 1987, I decided to marry an older woman with two kids. I know, I know: What was I thinking. Well, anyway, our first Christmas holds one of the fondest memories I have of those early years.
Let’s just say we were broke. Actually, that’s understating the situation. We were flat broke. You see, I was working two part-time jobs and my wife, Becky, had two full-time jobs. I’m counting cooking, maintaining the house and running the kids everywhere until you drop as a full-time job. That’s probably also understating the situation. It looked like Christmas was going to be pretty lean in terms of gifts for our immediate family.
Our daughter, Timisha, was going to be Becky’s responsibility, and that was fine with me. I figured clothes, makeup, music and money would be all teenage girls wanted. I just wasn’t ready for the dollar amounts. Remember, I didn’t know much about kids but was learning quickly. Becky just reminded me that when you’re a young, pretty teenage girl with red hair, you have special needs.
“You just worry about Joey,” she said.
Fine. I can do this. He’s a guy, so I’ll just ask him what he wants. Well, as it turned out, I didn’t even have to ask. Joey and all his friends played video games, you see, and they played them into the ground.
We could hardly pass a machine somewhere that Joey didn’t have the scouting report on. If you had a question about math or history for Joey, he might have trouble. But if you needed to know a special code, killer moves or what items to pick up or what weapons to buy in a video game, he was an outstanding resource.
He didn’t even need to be the one playing. He was just as interested in standing behind you barking out orders and instructions until you made the final level. It was during some of those games we played that I realized we were bonding and just how unselfish he was. He would even not try his best against me sometimes when we played face to face.
But, anyway, back to the problem. We didn’t have anything at home for Joey to play. Many of the kids he ran around with did, so he was very familiar with some of the home systems at the time. Nintendo was the new deal, and they were everywhere except our house. Joey wanted one so bad, he didn’t hint, just begged. The cost was very high for us at the time and we had to say no. Needless to say he was crushed.
We were having trouble paying for the gifts we had, and I did not want him to get his hopes up even for a second. Becky and I were in complete agreement on not getting him the $129 machine. But then something happened.
Two days before Christmas, Becky and I were up late at night looking at the Christmas tree and wondering about how disappointed Joey would be when he got clothes, a model and a record album. I couldn’t face him on Christmas morning.
I guess when you’re a kid and you want something so bad and have so much hope, the worst thing that can happen is to have your hopes dashed. These were just presents we were talking about, but that night, they came to symbolize so much more to me. I was either going to play it safe or take risks to make someone in my family happy.
Plain and simple, I was completely responsible for someone else’s Christmas dream. I told Becky, “I’m going to Target.” She looked at me and said, “You realize we don’t have the money.” But she didn’t try to talk me out of it, either.
So we got to work, took back some unopened presents, cut some corners and managed to find the last Nintendo machine in town on Christmas Eve. Heck, we even bought a game for it. Mike Tyson’s boxing game was Joey’s favorite.
When Joey went to bed, he was almost in tears, but painful as it was, we kept up the deception. Becky shrewdly left carefully weighted empty decoy presents so no one would catch on.
Have you ever seen a child so happy they smiled with tears in their eyes? That’s how Joey was on Christmas morning. He kept saying over and over again that this would be the best Christmas in his life.
“When did you get it? When did you get it? It wasn’t here last night,” he said.
Joey and I played that game all day long and took only short breaks for food. Sorry, girls — this was our Christmas Day. About 11 that night, Joey was exhausted. You see, in the boxing game you had to win a series of sequential boxing matches against fictional opponents in order to face the ultimate challenge, Mike Tyson. As I recall, lose one match and it’s back to the beginning. It had taken Joey all day to get about halfway to Tyson. He was getting there and I made him go to bed. He made it all the way up to the soft drinking Russian Soda Popinsky.