Albert grew up poor. His parents struggled to eke out a living on a dried-up piece of land.
Sharecroppers in the rural South were very familiar with poverty.
The family had five children, and Albert was the youngest. His older siblings loved to take care of him, play with him and teach him new things. The family may have been short on financial resources, but they were long on love.
As the youngest child, Albert received five cents from his father each Saturday before he would walk to town. There, Albert could use the money to watch a movie or get ice cream. Five cents was enough money for one or the other, but not both. Either way, for Albert, Saturdays formed the highlight of each week.
Each year at Christmas, Albert wished for the same gift, a bicycle. And each year, the bicycle did not come.
When he was 7, he wished to Santa, asked his mother, prayed to God: “Please bring me a bike.” But on Christmas morning, when he woke up, Albert discovered that no bike had arrived. Where he had hoped to find a bike, instead he found a bag with several oranges and an apple.
When Albert turned 8, again he expressed his deepest wish for a bike. On Christmas morning, again, a bag of fruit appeared, but no bike. The same scene repeated itself when Albert was 9. No bike. Just a few oranges and an apple.
When Albert was 10, he repeatedly made his desire known. He tore out pictures from catalogs, he talked about the bike at dinner every evening and, when he went to sleep, he dreamed of a bike. “Santa, please bring me a bike.”
However, Christmas again played out like it always did. Albert got up, ran to the den and found no bike. Only a bag with a few oranges and an apple.
As time for Christmas dinner approached, the whole family gathered in the kitchen to prepare the meal. Albert’s oldest siblings came home to be part of the family Christmas celebration. In the door walked Albert’s oldest sister, Rita. Twenty-three years old, Rita was married and had moved into town to work at the cotton mill. Rita already had two children of her own, and, like the rest of the mill workers, she struggled to make ends meet in order to feed her own kids.
As Rita entered the kitchen for the Christmas meal, she looked at Albert and said, “Albert, I brought you a present.” Albert ran outside, and looked in her station wagon. There it was: a new red bike.
Albert’s heart leapt for joy; his spirit burst with glee. His long anticipation had come to the most delightful fulfillment. At last, the bike was his!
So Albert did what any 10-year-old boy would do. He slept with that bike. Every night. For a year.
That new red bike meant many things to Albert. Most of all, it meant he had a sister who loved him immensely. She had sacrificed for him in a remarkable way. That bike meant someone really, really cared.
The truth was plain for all to see. The perfect Christmas gift came from incredible love.
Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.