A Christmas morning full of surprises

by Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

During my childhood in Claremont, my family had many wonderful Christmas mornings where I would wake up before the sun in anticipation of opening gifts from Santa. In most cases, it was just the three of us Weinbergers, Martin, Janis, and little Peter. I have many fond memories of our time together over this holiday.

There was one year however that was clearly a morning I’ll never forget. And even though it happened back in 1970, when I was 14, it had such an impact I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had just started high school at CHS and was learning about photography in detail. I had purchased a used Nikon camera with my own money and was making the big jump as a professional photojournalist. But professional camera gear was expensive, with a camera body alone costing over $1,500 new, not to mention lenses that would run about $400 to $1,200.

At this point I owned two lenses but had my sights on a motor drive that was placed under the camera, with a big grip that allowed me to take photos at five frames per second. Back then all cameras were manual, so a motor-drive was an essential piece of professional equipment. It was a big deal. And it was expensive, costing around $800.

So, it was no surprise when my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas that at the top of my list was a motor drive. To be honest, I really never expected to get one given the price. It was more than our family spent for a present. But I was passionate about my photography and relentlessly telling my parents how it would take my work “to the next level.”

Knowing my enthusiasm, mom and dad played it smart and sat me down on several occasions to say a motor drive was too expensive, and that they would be glad to help me financially, but I had to pay half. At that time, it seemed so far away in the future. I was already broke from buying the equipment I owned.

About a week before Christmas my mom even went so far as to sit me down and say that we simply did not have enough money, in an effort to lower my expectations. By now you might be thinking this was the best approach not to spoil young Peter. But in my defense, I was surrounded by photographers like Courier staffer George Rose, who owned all Nikon gear, including two motor drives. Even my father had a small collection of Leica cameras that were quite expensive. George was kind enough to loan me his motor drive for sports assignments, but that only fed my fever.

Up until Christmas I pretended to understand, but continued to bring up the motor drive. I would even joke with dad about getting one, and I remember vividly him saying “Ha ha ha” each time I brought it up. I was joking of course, but underneath, dead serious.

Christmas morning arrived, and at about 5 a.m. I had concluded that I would have to wait for that motor drive. Marty and Jan did their parenting well.

When mom finally let me come out to the living room to see the tree and presents — much to my chagrin she always made me wait to come out to turn all the lights on — I noticed a brand new bike. Now that was a surprise! We continued to take turns opening gifts and were getting close to finishing up when my father said, “I think this gift is for you.”

It wasn’t a big box, but it was heavy, and I had no idea what was inside. I ripped through the packaging — I could tell dad wrapped it — and to my shock I was staring at a Nikon motor drive packed inside a cool yellow box. I was overcome with joy and started dancing around the room. They definitely fooled me on this one! I hugged my parents, thanking them profusely.

After I caught my breath I sat down and opened the box, ready to take it for a spin immediately. When I took the top off, I looked inside and saw a small collection of rocks at the bottom. I was the proud owner of a motor drive box. My dad started laughing. He tricked me so well — I admit we were a bunch of kidders — but my mother was as shocked as me, not knowing what her husband had just done. He borrowed a box from George to pull off the ruse.

I stared at the rocks for more several seconds, and holding back the tears, got up and darted to my room before my parents would see. I refused to come out and told my parents to go away. It seemed Christmas was over for young Peter.

As I sat in my room, all I remember from that morning was my mom saying, “Martin (that meant he was in trouble) what have you done?” And she kept saying it over and over. She was not amused. To be honest, she was quite pissed off. Let’s just say it put a damper on the morning festivities.

I did recover after about an hour, but all I could say to my dad was “Ha ha ha.” Of course, I could not show I was upset … but mom knew. After all, I did have a new bike!

Back at the office the next day, George thought they had pulled off a great gag gift. Little did I know mom was working on my behalf. Two weeks later dad presented me with a nice used motor drive, for which we split the cost. The world seemed a better place with a motor drive in my hand, especially since George had given up one of his and sold it to dad. It was so generous of him! Ha ha ha.

I wouldn’t tell this story unless it had a happy ending. Happy holidays!


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