Just a Little Taste of Sambuca

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As told by Brittany, South Jersey

It really wasn’t an ornament — it was actually a tiny bottle of Sambuca — empty of course. The kind of small sampler that they sell in the State Store. (That’s a liquor store for all you non-Pennsylvanians.) Or is served on an airplane.

The ornament reminds me of my Uncle Jim. He wasn’t my “Uncle” in the traditional sense, but he was my father’s best friend and my Godfather. He called me “his pixie” and was about the best Uncle anyone ever had — giving me money, buying special gifts for every birthday and holiday – fun gifts like games and toys – not clothes.

Every Christmas Eve, after my brother and I had fallen fast asleep, Uncle Jim and my dad would spend the night putting together those special toys from  my mom and dad. Let’s say that Dad and Uncle Jim made sure that a real full-sized bottle of Sambuca was consumed as they worked through the night.

They put together doll houses. And little kitchen sets. And BIG kitchen sets. And trains for the tree. And forts for my brother.

One year they put together a bike for me. It’s all I wanted that year. Yep. They put it together. Aided by a lot of Sambuca. Then Christmas morning I woke up and screamed a joyous scream as only an 8- year old can scream. It was my bike! The bike I had wanted!

Who cared about all the other gifts. My bike was here! I jumped on it and began to ride around the house. You know how tight it is in a South Philly rowhome? Not much room to zoom around a 14-foot wide house where we had also crammed in a large Christmas tree, mechanized figures of Santa’s elves and a dozens of gifts waiting for the rest of the family to open – but I was loving every bike riding minute of it.

Forget the other gifts that Santa had left. They didn’t matter this year. This year I had the bike! Dad took out the big movie camera with the bank of lights lighting up the whole house so they could capture every excited look on my face showing off my bike and gap-toothed smile.

And then they caught something else on film. My complete shock when the training wheels fell off my bike causing me to crash to the ground. I felt myself falling… tumbling … crashing. I reached for anything to break my fall. That’s when I grabbed the first thing I could reach…..

…the first thing…

…that would be the Christmas tree. And it didn’t help keep me up on the bike. Or stop my fall.

The beautifully decorated tree — garland, tinsel, ornaments, lights —  followed me to the ground as I fell, hitting with a loud thud and crash. I screamed. My mom screamed. My baby brother screamed. I got up crying, “Look at my bike! Look at my bike!”

Ornaments broken. Garland unraveled. The bike half on me, half off.

My mom rushed to see if I was OK. Dad — well Dad dropped the camera and was on the phone in seconds to Uncle Jim who only lived a few blocks away. “Jim, we need you at the house — the bike is broke and the tree fell down!”

Uncle Jim came over in a flash with only his PJs and a weather-beaten robe. He took a quick look at the situation.

“Looks like we can fix this up,” he said. And then his perfect follow up, “But first — do you have any Sambuca?”

That was just the thing to get Mom and Dad smiling. The bike was fixed. The tree was put up — the holiday was saved. And as a special remembrance of that Christmas Uncle Jim had an ornament made of an empty Sambuca bottle.

We don’t get to see Uncle Jim that often anymore. He moved to Nevada away from the chilly Philly winters. He said he wanted to be near his money which was lost in the sports betting parlors in Las Vegas. But we do toast the Christmas holiday with Sambuca every year.

Now that I have a family and a tree of my own, my parents passed that Sambuca ornament to me. I hang it on the tree every year and remember Uncle Jim and the crazy Christmas when the bike broke and the tree came down.

Each year the U.S. Marine Corp does a fantastic job with its Toys For Tots effort — collecting and delivering toys for those children who may not otherwise receive anything for Christmas. See how you can help by visiting www.toysfortots.org


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