My earliest Christmas memory was lining up with my brothers and sister for two photos that appeared in the Lima News on Christmas Eve in 1951. The photos were taken in front of the cozy fire place in my grandparents home at 1506 West Wayne Street. The newspaper’s front page that day displayed a photo taken behind eight youthful, innocent Seggersons, (my youngest brother Larry was born eight months later) , staring into the fireplace under the caption: “Won’t Christmas Ever Come?”
The last page of the paper that day displayed a snapshot of the same scene taken from in front of us as we peered into the hearth, anxiously awaiting Santa’s arrival.
Christmas in that era at the Seggerson home on Kenilworth Avenue was an enterprise that required an organizational genius on the scale of a military deployment.
Early on Christmas morning we sat, in order of age, on the steps leading to the second floor of our home. John, the oldest, on the top step and then in descending order came Art, Pat, Ed, Dick, Bob, Mary, Timmy and finally Larry.
My father stood at the base of the steps and tried his best to hold back the rising tide of anticipation that cascaded up the stairwell. I would compare the energy in that space to the intensity present in a rodeo chute just before they let a Brahma bull loose with a cowboy clinging to its back.
When dad finally gave us the go sign it was a mad rush down the steps and Lord help the youngest among us if we faltered because, in their dash down the stairs, the oldest boys were not interested in waiting for any traffic jams.
Upon descending the steps and turning the corner into the living room, we found our Christmas presents arranged around the room in small piles with our name neatly printed on a white card. There was no tugging at Christmas wrapping or mystery about what our gifts were because Santa didn’t wrap our presents. We knew as we approached our little pile exactly what we were getting: socks, underwear and one toy.
My brother Dick and I, who were close in age, often received the same present. One that I remember clearly was a colorful, plastic toy machine gun that purred a rat-a-tat-tat every time the trigger was pulled. It took Dick and me about 30 seconds to get our coats on and head outside in the snow to begin our own little private war.
Dick clung to the porch railing and fired off several rounds in my direction. Not to be outdone, I sprinted across the street and dove over the short hedge in our neighbor’s yard, spinning in the air as I peppered Dick from an impossible angle. When I hit the frozen ground I heard the crunch of my new toy disintegrating beneath me. Not five minutes after receiving this wonderful gift, it lay in about 20 pieces, completely destroyed.
My first thoughts were how I could maneuver the broken toy into my brother’s hands and trick him into thinking it was his. But Dick was too smart for that. I slowly marched back into the house and spent the rest of the day unsuccessfully attempting to tape my shattered toy back together.
The Christmas gift that I remember most fondly ended up impacting my life. As I approached my pile one Christmas morning, I discovered a basketball. It was love at first sight. I immediately headed outdoors and tried my hand at putting it through the basket that hung on a telephone pole on the street in front of our house. The backboard and rim were homemade by older neighborhood boys and nailed to the pole.
That morning, with a foot of snow on the ground and freezing temperatures, I had the makeshift court all to myself. I shoveled an area under the basket and began to heave the ball up to the rim in hopes of making a basket. I don’t recall how long I was out there before finally putting the ball through the hoop but I vividly remember that when I finally did, I sprinted back into the house to share the news with my mother, who joined in my delight.
I spent that entire Christmas day outside heaving the basketball upward toward the rim.
When the ball froze, I hustled back inside and ran hot water over it to thaw it out and then returned to the task at hand. I clearly remember at one point looking back over my shoulder at our home and seeing my mom watching me through the dining room window. My first and most loyal fan!
My passion and love for basketball began in those moments and it would be impossible to properly measure the impact that it would play in my lifetime. The friendships, the playing and coaching achievements and thrills, and the lessons learned can be traced back to a simple gift on a blessed day. How lucky I have been.
Merry Christmas everyone.