When he arrived at my house back in the 1960s, he hardly seemed to stand a chance of lasting beyond his first Christmas season. Though clad in a soldier's tailored red uniform, an elegant black shako atop his head and mounted on a handsome white charger, he was, after all, merely a wooden Christmas ornament picked out by my Aunt Gerda to decorate my Christmas package.
It turned out he was standing guard over a dress shirt, the usual present from my Uncle Warner, who always picked out practical Christmas gifts for his nephews. Which, when I think back on it, was surprising for a man who so loved fast cars that he just a few years before had owned two sports cars in quick succession, a burgundy Jaguar XK-140 convertible and then a bright red Corvette.
Five decades later, that little cavalryman still hangs annually on my Christmas tree, a perpetually perplexed look in his big, dark eyes. Perhaps his horse is balky, or perhaps it's because somewhere along the way, he lost his right foot and still feels a bit unbalanced without the gold boot it once wore.
His survival for the first 10 years we were together is something of a mystery. I apparently tucked him into a drawer after the presents were opened that year, and a few years afterward, when I headed off to college and then graduate school, he waited, patiently unchanging.
Then in 1972, I returned to my home town, set up on my own in an apartment and decided to put up my first Christmas tree. With a tight budget that couldn't have exceeded $20, I scrounged a lanky tree and scored lights and a few boxes of ornaments on sale. And somewhere from my past, the cavalryman rode back into my life. I don't recall how or where I rediscovered him, but he went onto the tree as well.
And there he remains, survivor of several moves, more durable than my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and even two of my siblings. He still sits astride his horse, clutching the reins, shako straight and tall, gold buttons gleaming on that red tunic.
Some 50 years on, he watches over Christmas for the third, fourth and fifth generations of my family that he has known. And annually he reminds me of my wonderful Aunt Gerda and Uncle Warner, who probably thought what they had given me was a long-gone shirt. In fact, they gave me a lifetime of warm memories, embodied by this small, stalwart soldier.
-- Ken Robertson, reitred editor