I grew up in New York City in a middle-class section of the Bronx during the 1960s. It was a time when parents allowed children to play outside freely until days grayed into nights.
Our neighborhood mainly consisted of second-generation Italian and Irish families who lived in single or two-family brick houses that shared concrete driveways leading to small backyards.
Moms stayed at home to raise children. Many households were extended – often consisting of grandparents or unmarried uncles and aunts.
One wintry Saturday afternoon when I was about ten years old, my younger sister, Vickie, and I joined the neighborhood children to play in the recently fallen snow. Enough inches had accumulated to warrant serious sleigh riding.
As a group of us gathered down the block from our house near a hilly, empty lot, the sky grew darker, the air temperature chillier. Some of us threw snowballs at one another, while most took advantage of the rather steep slope by sledding down in colorful sleds either alone or in pairs. The less fortunate stubbornly participated too, by making toboggans out of inverted cardboard boxes that once contained large kitchen appliances.
Vickie and I had not graduated to serious sleigh riding by that point. As city girls, bicycling had been our athletic limit. So, when we found an abandoned sled in the back of the lot behind some barren trees that day, we jumped at the chance to join the fun even if our new mode of transportation was rust colored and warped, resting unevenly on the softly packed snow. It was a lot better than cardboard, we proudly agreed!
After several hours of youthful romping, we returned home numb to our fingertips and soaked to the bone. It was time to turn down the day, we admitted, as we shook snow out of our hair. But now we had the assurance of a future sledding adventure.
Carefully standing on a slant in a corner of the garage, was our newly acquired treasure we had hauled home by its one-sided rope.
Time passed and a few weeks later we were greeted by another snowstorm. Knowing our sled awaited us, my sister and I excitedly bundled up with boots, mittens, and hats to join the rest of the neighborhood kids at the empty lot. But, on our way out the back door, my father stopped us to say rather firmly: “Go to the front of the house.”
I remember beginning to resist, not understanding, because we needed to get the sled from the garage to walk up the driveway to the front. When he saw that I hesitated, he repeated. “I’ll meet you on the sidewalk. Go back into the house and out through the front door.” And so, eager to move forward with our day, we ran through the house to leave from the front door, as told, with little time to question what was to follow.
Standing on the sidewalk beside a new, long, sled glistening against the fallen snow, was my father, wearing an expression of parental anticipation. As I stood motionless, completely taken aback by this surprise, he explained the reasons for this unexpected gift … bestowed on a day far from Christmas or either one of our birthdays.
“I bought this sled for you and Vickie because you didn’t ask for one and were happy to continue sledding with the broken one you found,” he said.
I remember thanking him enthusiastically, jumping up and down to kiss and hug him, while my sister looked on, too young to understand the meaning of the lesson, but delighted, nonetheless. She and I exchanged knowing glances as we had come a long way since the last snowstorm. We could now parade down the street with a sled bigger and better than we had ever imagined having.
Truth be told, I did not desire a new sled. But I remember feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. I also remember understanding the idea of reward. Most important, I learned that not wanting, not asking, not hoping, may just be a good thing after all.
Margo Kourkoutas Morea teaches history of American education classes at Montclair State University and Ramapo College in New Jersey.