by Daniel Torres

We lived in a tiny house. The yellow tongue-in-groove boards on the outside could also be seen from the inside. We had no interior walls. Pictures were hung directly on the 2 X 4s that supported the little house. I often used the missing knots on the boards to spy on the outside world. It was an adventure that needed no props. I was barely five years old. The year was 1958. The town was Mayaguez, third largest city on the west coast of Puerto Rico.

We were dirt poor. The neighbors around us were dirt poor, also. Everyone did what they had to do to scratch out a living. There was no shame in being poor; we had plenty of company. Father was always gone working as a maintenance man at the University, so I would entertain myself for hours with a stick, kicking a can, or fishing. Yes, fishing. I would take a pin and bend it, take some thread, wrap it around the head, and dip it in the shallow creek that ran behind the little yellow house. I never caught anything but it kept me occupied. I saw others doing it. Years later I realized that it would have helped if I had put bait on my homemade hook.

The Spirit of Christmas was in the air. Folks talking about it and the music coming through the radios of passing cars were obvious hints. Our family did not have any money to spend on such luxuries. About the best that we had was a special holiday meal. But one afternoon my father came home and told me that he had registered my name in town, and that I could possibly be getting a Christmas gift. My world changed. The day that we were to drive into town to pick up my gift could not come soon enough. In those days, before the world became smaller with our current technology, Christmas was celebrated on January the 5th. We did not welcome Santa Claus, but the three Wise Men.

Children would go out the day before and gather grass, tie it in a small bundle and put it under the bed with a bowl of water. This would feed the camels while the jolly Wise Men dropped their gifts under their beds. Christmas had taken on a new meaning to a five year old. I hardly slept the night before. And finally the day arrived. My gift was not under my bed, but it had been left in an auditorium.

We drove into town. Father led me by the hand into a large auditorium that was filled with other children and parents. Names were being called out over a loud speaker. We sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally I heard my name come across the thunderous speakers. It was my whole, entire name. I did not know what to do then, but father led me by the hand to the front where a lady reached behind her and pulled something out of a box. It was not wrapped. And I didn't care!! I believe Father went through the usual formalities of, "What do you say, son?" I'm sure I said something or it would have been the switch when I got home, but I was awestruck. In the palm of my hand was the most beautiful, brand new, shiny, candy-apple red Volkswagen Beetle a boy ever put his gaze on. It was my only Christmas present that year. But who needed anything else? It was my treasure. All mine. I couldn't have been happier if you had given me a real one. Life was good.

I can still close my eyes and see it. I can still smell the Three-In-One oil aroma that it gave. That gift was so special to a five year old little boy that it helped to forever stamp the memory of those days into my heart. I would spend hours just staring at it. It fit my hand from finger tip to wrist. Today, it would only sit on my palm.

Fifty-one years later, it still brings me joy and floods me with the memories of those simple days. Not a Christmas season goes by that I don't think about that particular part of my life. Many times I have sat in my living room staring at the bounty of treasures under the Christmas tree for my own three daughters and smiled as I thought of the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received. My little bug affected my adult life, too.

My life has gone in many directions since those simple days. When I was ten years old, my mother, who was living in New York City, sent my father a plane ticket for me and my brother to join her there. I grew up in the complexities of that major city. By the time I was out of high school, my family had decided to move back to Puerto Rico, but I decided to stay and continue my education. Yes, I was a young teenage man living in the big city without family, but I survived it, thank God. After joining the U.S. Air Force, I was stationed at Blytheville A.F.B. for almost four years. Eventually, I would take up residence in Searcy. Yet, with all those complexities of life, the simplicity of those early days never left my heart.

For the past five Christmases I have gone to Juarez, Mexico, to bring gifts to poor children, and even adults. Most of these children would not have anything for Christmas were it not for the generosity of folks from the Searcy area who help to make this possible. And, as usual, the gospel message is packaged together with their gift. It is the most important part of the gift. I always see in their faces the joy of what I imagine my face looked like 51 years ago. I guess it's my way of saying thanks to that wonderful stranger who in 1958 forever changed my life with a gift of love. Oh, and by the way, as I write this story, next to my laptop sits the a perfect replica of my Red Beauty. Life is wonderful. Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Daniel, along with a team from the Searcy area, will be headed to Juarez, Mexico, to bring the message of love and Christmas presents to needy children and families. Anyone who wishes to help support this outreach or feels called to go on a mission trip to Juarez in the future may contact him at 501-827-7679.

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