Christmas 1947

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The only scooter in our house was at least 20 years old and broken. It had wobbly, worn-out wooden wheels and no one was able to fix it for lack of spare parts. I wanted a new scooter so badly and pictured myself flying along the streets of our village on a brand-new one with balloon tires, my hair and dress tossed back from the speed, and my friends staring after me in envy and awe.

In Sunday school I learned that if you pray faithfully, God will fulfill your wishes. So every night before my mother’s good night kiss, I rattled down the

Müde bin ich, geh zur Ruh,

schliesse beide Äuglein zu.

Vater, lass die Augen Dein

Über meinem Bettchen sein.

(I am tired, and I am going to rest

and I will close my little eyes.

Lord, let your eyes

watch over my little bed.)

However, to the spoken request that my father please come home from the war, I added another silent one—namely that God would do his utmost to get me a scooter for my birthday in September. “Lieber Gott, mach dass ich einen Roller zum Geburtstag kriege.” (“Dear God, see to it that I get a scooter for my birthday.” )

Why did I not reveal this prayer request to my mother so that she knew my deepest desire? I instinctively knew how impossible it was at the time, two years after the war, to get a new scooter, and I sensed the unreasonableness of my demand. In 1947 German manufacturers did not produce such luxury items, especially not in East Germany, occupied by the Soviets. But Almighty God, I thought, is much more resourceful than my mother and all of post-war industry, and God would know for sure how to procure such an item.

I started my daily secret prayer in late spring. But, alas, in September, on my seventh birthday, there was no scooter among my gifts. It was the first time in my life—and certainly not the last—that I pretended to be happy and grateful but inside felt dejected and let down. I finally dealt with my profound disappointment by telling myself that not God but I had fallen short. I had not prayed enough.

So I resolved to double my prayer efforts: not to leave a day out, as it unfortunately had happened at times before my birthday, and to both start and close each day with a scooter prayer. I was convinced that God would be so impressed by my dogged, faithful persistence that he could not help but grant me my wish. And so I prayed twice every day for almost four months.

When Christmas came nearer, I made sure that this time I would not be disappointed if there were no scooter for me. No scooter—this was my plan B—would simply be a sign that God wanted me to pray even more and test me further to see if I had the endurance and determination to pray for a whole year instead of just four months. And I was ready and willing to do just that.

Finally Christmas Eve came. We children had to take a bath, dress in our Sunday clothes, and wait for the lovely sound of a bell, which was the signal that the Christ child had lit the candles on our Christmas tree, left the presents for us in the room, and had moved on to the next home.

Then we stood around the piano, my mother played our favorite Christmas carols, singing along an octave lower in her somewhat cracking, hoarse voice. After my brothers and I each nervously recited the Christmas poem we had to learn for this occasion, we were finally allowed to go to the table full with our presents. Every family member had a section of the table with his or her gifts, and I could see right away there was no scooter for me. So, valiantly, I swallowed my disappointment and switched to plan B.

After we’d opened our gifts and were ready to go to the kitchen for the meal, my mother told me there was still something waiting for me in the hallway. Sure enough, there it was: a new scooter with black balloon tires, the frame made from blue lacquered metal, a wide board for my feet, handle bars with rubber ends—a scooter so beautiful and promising and solid, I thought it was surely made in heaven. I was bursting with gratitude, and my mother had tears in her eyes when she saw the intensity of my happiness.

During the meal I still could not believe that I, of all children, had a new scooter, that God had heard my prayer and granted me my wish. After supper—it must have been past 9 o’clock at night—friends and relatives came over, and I, without telling anyone, put on my mittens, snuck out, and took my new scooter for a maiden ride.

The sky on this Heilige Nacht (holy night), this Christmas Eve of 1947, was clear with a bright full moon and unseasonably warm air. It felt more like late October because no snow had yet fallen. Profoundly glad, I first rode back and forth in front of our house, daring to go faster and faster on this street lit only by the warm glow from some neighbors’ windows and by the moon that seemed to jump up and down with each movement of my leg that propelled the scooter along.

I was alone in the spell of the silent mystery of this night, and I was not afraid. Indeed, to be the only person on the street at such late an hour did not make me scared at all, but bold, proud, and ecstatic.

Soon I became even more daring and pushed the scooter uphill on the Kirchberg, a short lane with cobblestones that led to the Obere Marktstrasse with the church and city hall. And there I propelled myself along on the sidewalk, turned the corner to test how my scooter would run downhill. Speeding down the Amtsstraße with the cool wind in my face, I was on top of the world. Rarely in my life have I felt such intense bliss, grateful for a good God and thankful for a loving mother. I did not need any awed and envious spectators because I knew that Someone in heaven saw me, a 7-year-old German girl racing jubilantly with her new scooter through the dark and deserted streets of her village, feeling blessed, chosen, and gifted with a present much too large to grasp.

About the Author

Barbara Carvill spent her childhood in post-war East Germany. A retired professor from the German Department of Calvin College, she lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is a member of Church of the Servant, a Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids.
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