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The colonel's fruit lasted longer than the tricycle

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By Bill Evans

Most folks picture Christmas in many ways.

Families gather around a roaring fire with a glittering Christmas tree shining in the background and brightly colored packages scattered around it.

I remember a lot of Christmas celebrations just like that.

But there was a very special one that was as pretty to me as a Norman Rockwell painting, thanks to the generosity of a man on a Christmas Eve long ago.

During those lean years of the Depression, Christmas was sad for folks who couldn't afford to give the smallest of presents to their children.

We were fortunate, we had a warm place to live and my father had two jobs at the Springs Cotton Mills' Lancaster Plant.

While his main job was in the cotton department, he also drove a big Springs trailer truck, delivering huge rolls of unbleached cloth to faraway bleacheries.

Sometimes, he picked up goods for delivery to customers on his return route. After all, an empty truck doesn't make any money.

As was his custom, Daddy would call in before leaving out for home to see if there was anything he needed to pick up and bring to Lancaster.

Yes, there was, he was told. And it was an electrical generator.

But in this case, the place to pick it up was off the beaten path of his regular run and the roads to get there weren't in the best shape.

Now, Daddy was an old-fashioned man with old fashioned loyalty to his employer.

The generator was urgently needed, so he turned his rig around and headed for Atlanta.

It was Christmas Eve and the roads were pretty much his. When he got to the trucking terminal the floodlights were brightly shining; he was expected and his generator was quickly loaded.

The man in charge told daddy that he really appreciated him picking up the freight. He also said, "You must have no family since you are working on Christmas Eve."

That's when Daddy spoke up, saying, "Yes, I have a wife and small son who will be looking for me tomorrow morning."

The terminal man said, "I don't want to make you mad, but I'd like you to take a gift to your son from Santa Claus. It's a tricycle that missed a shipment and I gotta do something with it."

Knowing my daddy as I observed him until his death, I was a bit surprised that he took the gift.

Daddy never said so, but I strongly suspect he offered to pay the warehouse manager for it, even though he didn't have a lot of money.

Now, this wasn't your ordinary tricycle.

It was expensive. To tell the truth, this one would've have taken all of Daddy's pay envelope and then some. The tires were balloon with tubes and chrome spokes on each wheel. The seat was leather and the handle bars were coated in shiny chrome with rubber hand grips.

Man, I was something on that extra special tricycle and I rode it until the tires wore out.

Of course, I would've had a good Christmas without that tricycle.

Before daddy made that Christmas Eve run, he brought home a huge poke (that's a grocery sack for you younger folks) full of fruit, nuts and candy from the Lancaster Plant.

That was a big deal in those days; times were tough and there were none of the company gifts which came about years later.

Somehow, a poke just like the one Daddy came in through the back door with, went into the home of every Springs employee that year.

The Depression was pretty tough, but here, that toughness formed a bond of loyalty between Col. Elliott White Springs and the "lintheads" who tended his looms.

There wasn't a law anywhere on the books that required the colonel to give his employees anything for Christmas. But he did.

I don't think a single mill hand looked at that poke of fruit, nuts and candy as a hand-out. But Bless Pete, it may well have been all the Christmas some families had.

The loyalty of a bag of fruit lasted longer than the tricycle tires.

Its contents disappeared in no time, but the gesture behind it lasted until the day the colonel died.

Merry Christmas!