As we move out of the Holiday season and into the heart of winter, I do a lot of thinking and reflection, particularly about family members that have passed on and favorite gifts that I have received over the years. One such gift that I received as a child has a story that, at one time, I was convinced had ended badly, but as it turns out hasn’t ended at all. It is a story that hopefully many readers can appreciate.
I suppose that I was probably one or two years old when I got a beautiful Radio Flyer wagon for Christmas. I don’t remember receiving the wagon, but I know that it was a gift from my grandparents because somewhere I have a picture of me in their living room, on Christmas morning, sitting in that wagon. The wagon had a wooden frame, with red wooden sideboards. Painted on the sideboards in beautiful white letters was Radio Flyer. It had a gray handle for pulling/steering, and it was beautiful.
My actual memories of using the wagon take me back to days of playing outside and hauling things. I remember loading all my stuffed animals in the wagon and driving them around the house and around the edge of the field where we planted our garden. When my younger brother came along, and we got old enough to do chores outside, we would use the wagon to haul things other than stuffed animals. We hauled firewood, leaves, sticks, grass clippings, rocks, and just about anything that needed to be moved. I tried to haul the cat in the wagon once, but it kept jumping out.
Our house was a trailer on top of a tree covered hill, and that hill provided plenty of riding opportunities. There are three years difference between my younger brother Sidney and me, so when he was little, I would pull him around the yard in the wagon. Eventually he got big enough that he and I both would get in the wagon and ride down the hill; I would steer. Sometimes we would wreck, but it was fun, and we survived. If anyone ever worried about us getting hurt, they didn’t tell us, because we stayed outside and were unsupervised most of the time unless there was work to be done.
Basically, that wagon provided a lot of entertainment for my brother and me until one tragic day. It was a weekday, and my brother and I were playing in the driveway. It was summertime and my mom was not working at the time. My dad was at work. We had been hauling dirt and rocks, making roads in the driveway for our Tonka trucks to travel on. My mom called us in for lunch and that’s when it happened. My dad came home early. Our driveway went up the hill from the road (a dirt road at the time), and if you were going up in a bigger vehicle such as a truck, you couldn’t always see what was in the driveway if it was small. My dad ran over my wagon! He didn’t mean to do it; it was just one of those things that happens. I got a good whipping for leaving my wagon in the driveway and then had to put in some sweat equity by picking up acorns and putting them in a five-gallon bucket. I didn’t understand at the time why I was punished. I think it probably scared my dad because he thought it could have been one of us kids, not to mention we were always taught to take care of our things. Now my wagon was messed up. The sideboards were cracked, the frame was warped and the floor of the wagon was practically destroyed. I felt terrible and was confident that there would be no more wagon adventures ever again. A sad end to a great story.
Fast forward forty years. Back in July I went to visit my dad. After the kids and I arrived and visited for a few minutes, Dad told me that he had something to give me. He took me downstairs to the basement and there before my eyes was my little red wagon. It had a new floor, the wheels had been painted, it had new sideboards, and the tongue had a fresh coat of gray paint. I couldn’t believe it! The wagon that I had watched weather away in dampness, never expecting to ever see again, and believing that it had been taken to the dump because it was so damaged, was sitting there more beautiful than before. It was a very special moment. It was Christmas in July. Never did I suspect that my dad kept that wagon and thought enough to repair it and make it new again. My dad is a talented artist and has always been very serious when it comes to taking on projects. It’s the way he was raised and it’s the way he raised me. He had painstakingly measured and stenciled the original parts of my wagon and reproduced them as accurately as possible (the original sideboards were pretty much shot). I have no idea how many hours he spent restoring my wagon, but each one was spent with a love that you can’t put a price on. My dad and I haven’t always had the best relationship, particularly when I was younger. We had to work through a lot of things, but it was important for us to do that, because bad relationships are not healthy. He and I both have regrets as far as how our relationship was in the past, but we try to look past our faults and love each other for who we are. I don’t think my dad will ever really know how much those hours he spent on my wagon mean to me, no matter how many times I tell him. It is quite metaphorical in many ways, particularly in terms of my life and our relationship with each other. What once was broken is now made whole. That is beautiful and that is what love is. That wagon is a symbol of an unconditional love that only a dad and a son can know and it’s a beautiful thing.
My wagon, now retired from serious adventuring, sits in my living room. It serves as a reminder that broken things can be fixed. All it takes is love and time. It’s kind of like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. All it needed was a little love. As we move out of the Holiday season, let your spirit of love last the whole year through.
Until Next Time!
Clint Calhoun teaches high school science and outdoor education classes at Lake Lure Classical Academy and has worked as a naturalist and biologist in Hickory Nut Gorge for over 25 years.