My eyes were straining in the gloom of the basement. I could feel and smell the dampness from the dirt floor as I inched my way to the door. This portion of the basement must have been under the porch of the house because even I had to watch my head, and I was only 7.
Christmas was coming and I had seen my older brother and father making some secret trips to the basement. Even though I had been expressly told not to go that far into the basement because of spiders, dirt and punishment, it was, after all, a very special time of year.
The first time I had been courageous enough to go back to the door, I was really afraid. I turned the knob on the door and slowly opened it, trying to be as quiet as a mouse. In the gloom I could make out a shape. It was, it was! A bicycle!
I just knew it had to be for me at Christmas. The white paint job left a bit to be desired, and the seat was torn, but it looked wonderful to me. After that, I went back almost every day to examine the bike. It was just my size, but the seat sure was scratchy.
To account for all the extra time I was spending in the basement, I told my mother I was "just playing," but my conscience bothered me. I stayed away for a few days, but the temptation was too strong, and I had to see the bike one more time before Christmas. This day as the door creaked open, a red reflector glowed in the darkness. A brand new white seat with a wonderful big red reflector was now on the bike along with a new paint job. I didn't want to spoil the moment so I left hastily; I just had a few days to wait until Santa came to our house. In those few days, my conscience worked overtime.
Christmas Eve, I could hear my parents late at night trimming the tree. Instead of sugar plums dancing in my head as I went off to sleep, there were thoughts of how to be properly enthusiastic when I saw the bicycle; maybe it was for someone else!
Christmas morning arrived and the family gathered to "oh and ah" over the lovely tree. I jumped up and down when I was presented my "new" bike with its wonderful seat and red reflector. Was I too excited? Not excited enough?
I managed, ultimately, to become a fairly good bike rider but always had a slightly guilty feeling I had spoiled my own surprise.
If my parents knew of my sneaky trips to the basement, they never let on. I had betrayed their trust in me and that was enough to teach me a lifelong lesson. Many happy family Christmases have come and gone, but each year I catch myself back in that dark basement eyeing the red reflector.