Over the Hill

The best gifts are often free

On the first Christmas after our wedding, I gave Mamie a globe. Not a golden globe, not a crystal globe, but a basketball sized, rotund, spherical map of the Earth.

I must have dimly sensed the globe was a dumb idea, because I also gave her a pair of fleece-lined slippers with a rhinestone choker hidden in one slipper’s toe. She doesn’t remember the slippers and rhinestone choker, but she’s never forgotten that globe. It was a dumb idea.

That was the Christmas of 1953, three months after our wedding and my discharge from the Army. We were living in our first home, which was an apartment on Second Street in San Jose, around the corner from one of Horsetrader Ed’s car lots.

Mamie was still working as a telephone operator, and I was trying to sell vacuum cleaners.

My love for maps goes back to 1935 when I was a first-grader in a one-room country school. Four or five roll-up maps hung from the wall above the blackboard behind the teacher’s desk. They could be rolled up or down like window shades, and at least one was usually down.

I never tired of peering at those maps. I saw the United States was much bigger than the European countries, and I felt proud. I saw how huge Canada looked, and I was surprised. I was also surprised to see how small nearby Lake Ontario looked. I wanted Mamie to share my fascination for maps.

She was intrigued by that big, gift-wrapped box that sat for days under our Christmas tree. She even wondered if it might be a doll. The globe was a long-remembered major disappointment.

But, we soon had other things to think about. Mamie became pregnant and lost the baby. And a district manager of the vacuum cleaner company treated me shabbily.

We moved to Redwood City, where I repaired vacuum cleaners as well as sold them. Mamie got pregnant again and, on doctor’s orders, quit her job. I finally got a real job with a finance company in Palo Alto.

The job had a promising future, but a meager starting salary of just $250 a month. We found an apartment for $55 per month. Hamburger was 33 cents a pound. The doctor and hospital agreed to accept monthly payments. A night out for us was sitting in the car downtown eating ice cream cones and watching people.

After budgeting for everything, we had three dollars to save each month.

That Christmas, Mamie gave me a hammer and I gave her gray, denim, maternity pedal-pushers. We still remember that Christmas as our best ever.