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"The Little Red Radio"
(This column also appeared in The Oak Ridger, December 2, 2022)

Judy Lockhart DiGregorio

The color red reminds me of strawberry-scented candles, Santa Claus, and Christmas. It also reminds me of a favorite Christmas gift that my brother Charles gave me years ago -- a cherry-colored portable radio made of plastic with a small handle on top.

Charles had purchased the radio just before coming home for Christmas from his freshman year in college. I couldn’t wait to see him. He had been gone four months, and I missed him greatly.

Eighteen months older than I was, my brother was my hero growing up. I followed him around like a pesky puppy. I wasn’t just a thorn in Charles’ side, I was a cactus. I gave him no privacy. If he pedaled off on his blue bicycle with his friends, I followed him. If he organized a softball game with his buddies, I grabbed my glove and joined them. If he went exploring in caves, I crawled through dark tunnels right behind him. No matter how hard he tried, he could not rid himself of me. Inevitably, this caused some friction between us.

“Go play dolls with your friends,” Charles begged me, and, occasionally, I complied, but not often.

In one of our most memorable altercations, Charles and I raced to the bathroom to wash our hands before supper. Splashing water on the tile floor, we each grabbed one end of the white hand towel hanging from the metal rack. In the ensuing tug of war, we pulled the towel rack right out of the wall. Of course, each blamed the other for the accident.

Both Charles and I were voracious readers, probably because our home had no television. We made weekly trips to the library, checking out armfuls of books, especially in the summertime. After I devoured my own books, I wanted to read Charles’ books, too. This irritated Charles to no end. I was constantly in his hair; now I wanted to be in his books, too.

“If you want to read these books, check them out when I return them to the library,” Charles declared. “And stay out of my room!”

I couldn’t resist that challenge. When Charles left the house, I entered his bedroom and found his stack of books, including Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan that I’d been dying to read. I took one of my own library books, removed its cover, and switched it with the Tarzan book. Charles had already finished Tarzan so he never realized the trick I had played on him, until I bragged about it, of course. I had to rub it in.

Charles and I didn’t fight all the time. Some times we actually cooperated such as the cold winter nights we made homemade yeast doughnuts together. Mom mixed the batter. After it had risen sufficiently, Charles and I took turns rolling out the dough and cutting out the doughnuts. Then one of us fried them in Crisco while the other drained the doughnuts on paper towels and shook them in a brown paper bag full of granulated sugar. Even now, I can still smell those delicious doughnuts.

I can still smell that radio Charles gave me, too. For some reason, it had a strong plastic odor that tickled your nose. Though he had little money, Charles had purchased the used radio from a friend in the dorm who needed cash. The radio was well-made and lasted for years before it finally quit working. I carried it everywhere I went, listening to groups such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Shirelles.

I don’t miss the radio, but I do miss my brother and the fun we used to share when we were younger. The little red radio was a secondhand gift, but it came from a first-rate brother.

This column first appeared in The Oak Ridger’s Senior Living, December, 2003. This story is a reprint and published in honor of Judy’s brother who passed on November 3, 2022. It has also appeared in “Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas,” 2007.

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