Today, so many of us do our shopping at Wal-Mart. But before there was the big box stores, there was a grocery chain (at least it still exists in New Jersey) called A & P. Officially, they call themselves The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.
It was the place my mom did her shopping.
I loved to go with her because I was a wannabe NASCAR driver before I knew what it was. I used to take the shopping cart and slide it into the corners at the end of the aisle. I didn’t care what she was buying. I just wanted to drive the cart. Tony Stewart – I’ll drag race you at Harris Teeter – anytime, any location.
At Christmas, they stacked toys above the shelving in the produce department. They were always great big toys, and there was one I especially coveted – a remote control red convertible that looked like a 1965 Pontiac Catalina. This was in the days before radio control. There were eight wires that connected the control box and the car. Did I tell you the car was at least 24 inches long and 8 inches wide? It was huge.
One day I dragged my mother to the store. Since she didn’t drive we walked there. I showed her the car. It cost $12.88. That was it. I promised her that if she got me that toy for Christmas, I would never ask for another toy again for the rest of my life.
Christmas came and Christmas went. There was no 1965 Pontiac
Catalina under the Christmas tree. In fact, the next time we went shopping at the A & P, it was still in the box with the clear cover; sitting on the shelf in the produce aisle (can you tell it is still an unresolved issue?). Adding insult to injury, one of my best friends got one for Christmas. I showed it to my mother, but it never materialized in my house.
Had I gotten it as a gift, I would have played with it – for two weeks – and gotten bored with it. It would have moved from the living room to my bedroom, to under my bed, to the basement to the land of unused toys.
I look back and fondly remember so many Christmas gifts I received. There were other gifts my parents gave me that are intangible. One of those was the gift of family. My dad gave up lucrative jobs that were out of state because he would be away from the family for a week at a time. He took a lower-paying job close to home so he could be with his family. I learned to make homemade ravioli at the hand of my mother.
There also was the gift of faith. We weren’t dragged to church. We weren’t sent to church. We went to church – together. Since my town was so small, we walked to church. I remember as a seventh-grader one of the class bullies actually complementing me for having seen my father and I walking to church together.
Each year, I promised my mother that this year’s Christmas wish list was different. This was the year I would play with my Christmas gift long after we were into the new year. It never happened.
Yet each day, they gave gifts that keep on giving; those gifts were getting the baton of faith and family into the hands of the next generation. It never ended up in the land of “unused” toys.
I’ll be back in two weeks. Until then, live well, my friend.
The Rev. Tony Marciano is executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission, which provides a free, long-term Christian recovery program for men and women addicted to drugs and alcohol.