The Christmas Card

By: Doug Sarant/Case Madison
| Published 11/24/2023

Drawing by Case Madison

THE WOODLANDS, TX -- I first saw Diane Zimmerman standing in front of the bleachers at the West Springfield (Massachusetts) Olympia Ice Sports Hockey Center talking with one of my teammate's parents. Her brother played for Westfield and we (Longmeadow) played them four times during the season as well as practiced at the same times and at the same arena in the 12U division.

As our team was waiting to go on the ice, I saw her and did a double take. I was staring, but luckily no one noticed. Then, she looked over at me and noticed I was looking at her and she smiled. She was wearing a parka, was a little shorter than me with blonde hair and had the most beautiful blue eyes I'd ever seen. I was embarrassed so I looked away. A moment later, I turned back to look again and she was already back in mid-conversation with her group. The moment was gone. By this time the Zamboni was finished cleaning the ice, the gate was unlatched, and our team headed onto the ice.

Later, I had found out what her name was from my teammate, Gary. Their families were friends as the two moms worked together.
I didn't think about her again until I looked on my refrigerator at the team schedule a day later and I noticed we were playing Westfield again at the Olympia, a few days later.

I counted the minutes, impatiently. Soon, the day arrived. My mom dropped me off early so I went to the concession stand to get a soda. I got in line, bought my drink, turned around and was going to make my way to the locker room. The concession stand line was now long, and lo and behold, my blue-eyed blonde beauty was in it and she was staring right at me, smiling. I promise you her smile could've powered up the whole arena in an electrical failure. Out of all the people in the world, the most beautiful person on the planet chose to smile at me. I was 10 steps from where she was in line. Those steps were more like miles because I had never been more nervous in my life. If it was possible for a 12-year-old to have a coronary, I would've had one right then and there. I was in way over my head.

Yeah, I was in sixth grade and like every other sixth grade guy at Williams Middle School, I'd gone out with about 30 girls for a total of 100 days max in the first three to four months of school, so girls weren't foreign to me and they no longer had cooties.

Incidentally, the girls seemed to always be the ones doing the breaking in…I'm breaking up with you, I'm gonna go out with Hurwitz, Harney or whoever or whatever guy who was our friend. The thing is we didn't mind. It was excellent preparation for life in the future. I'm reasonably certain there wasn't one sixth grade guy at Williams Middle School that year who turned out to be a possessive boyfriend or husband.

Albeit, this was different. When I saw Diane Zimmerman at the bleachers that day, my heart seemed to come unglued. I'd never felt like that before. I had a feeling this is what a love connection feels like. This was the proverbial love at first sight.

So, I'm walking and staring back at her trying to manage a smile. My rushed, unrehearsed plan was to smile back but I only managed a half smile. For some reason, I was struck with Bell's Palsy at the worst possible moment. The other part of my plan worked perfectly because I walked right past her hoping I looked calm, cool and collected. The truth is, I would've cracked under the pressure if I stopped and tried to act cool.

I had blown my chance.

You'd think I'd have had a difficult time trying to play hockey that night with all that was on my mind. Let's not forget how resilient 12-year-olds are. Honestly though, we had a good coach that kept us focused which was the real reason.

When I got home that night, I told my older sister, Janet what was going on.

She could help sort things out for me...She was good at that.

Long story short. Janet said seeing as it's Christmas time, why don't you go pick out a cool Christmas card so the next time you see her, you can give it to her. I thought that was a great idea but she'd have to go with me to the pharmacy next to Steigers on Bliss Street to help me pick one out.

The Christmas card contest winner was a card with a picture of a sleigh carrying a Christmas tree. Inside, read the words..."Won't you come on a sleigh ride with me and my Christmas tree?"

It was so corny, but when Janet showed it to me, we both laughed hysterically because although it was corny, it was absolutely perfect for the situation I was in.
With the help of this awesome card, I was ready to face my heartthrob, Diane Zimmerman.

Hopefully, the spirit of Christmas was going to assist me.

We played Westfield again a week or so later, and I was now prepared for the big moment.

Upon entering the Olympia, I headed to the locker room, and along the way, at a distance I saw a big congregation at the bleachers. Diane was there with her parents along with all of the Westfield families and there was a lot of shaking of hands, hugging and crying. I could see that Diane looked sad. This all seemed odd but I had a game so I committed it to "whatever". I just knew that wasn't going to be the right time to deliver the card.

After the game, I'd somehow have to find a way.

We played the game and it was one of our better performances. Coach Wasson picked this game for a lengthy post-game speech to tell us how and why we played a great game and this is what it takes to be winners, so on and so forth. I'm in there and I'm thinking, HURRY UP, COACH!

The speech finally concluded and with my skates and uniform still on, I grabbed the card and ran to the front of the arena to see if I could find Diane before she leaves.

I got to the front and I saw her walking towards the exit doors with her family.

One problem...I'm right where the rubber floor ends and the concrete begins. You don't walk on concrete with your blades on. It's not a good marriage.
So, I'm standing there about 50 feet from Diane and her family, helpless. Suddenly, something miraculous happens. She turns and sees me, looks at me for a few seconds and starts walking towards me. I was thinking..."This is it. Don't blow it!"

She reaches me and I said hi, and we both smiled. I handed her the Christmas card, and as I started in on my presentation, she opened the card. My voice did crack a little, but I held it together enough to get it out.

"I've been noticing you and was thinking that maybe we could see each maybe go to a movie or to Open Skate. I could go with my mom and pick you up."
I mean to tell you that I was never more petrified up to that point in my life. I can actually safely say that's still #1, 50 years later.

The next thing I know, Diane starts crying and hugs me, then backs off and looks at me in a confused way. She then proceeds to run out of the facility. When she got through the glass exit doors, she stopped, looked back and then was gone.

For the next few days, I walked around in a state of bewilderment.

Seeing how it all went down with Diane; I couldn't help but think I had done something wrong. After all, I was just a kid...I thought I may have inadvertently done something that could have been perceived as being mean.

On the last school day before Christmas break in a driving snowstorm (Longmeadow Admin NEVER canceled school), Gary (teammate) flagged me down at the back gate and handed me an envelope. He said Diane's dad wanted to make sure you got this.

It was just before school started and I thought I'd wait until after school to read it because I wanted to be alone when I did.

"To Doug-From Diane" was on the front of the envelope.

I don't have the writing ability to describe to you just how long those next eight hours seemed to take.
After school, I took my usual route home, down Woolworth Street, eventually making it to the Bliss Park, pine tree-wooded path we'd use to cut 10 minutes off of the walk home.

When it snowed, this journey was glorious as you looked in awe at the snow-covered trees. The scenery was perfect with Christmas a week away.
I ventured off the path further into the Bliss Park wilderness so I couldn’t be seen by any other shortcut-minded students walking home. I found a stump, brushed off the seven inches of snow that covered it, and sat down.

The snowstorm had let up by noon and had been reduced to flurries.

I finally opened the envelope, and in it was a Christmas card. It was one of those generic types with a picture of Santa Claus and the words...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Below it, she had put, Love Diane.

She had stapled a note to the card. I ripped it off, unfolded it and started reading...
"Doug: I am so sorry for not talking to you after you gave me that sweet Christmas card. I've seen you when my brother has had games and I've been watching you to see if you'd look at me and hoping that somehow, we'd meet and be together. Your card and your words made me cry because my parents had told me two days before that we'd be moving out of state before Christmas, so I'll be gone by the time you read this.

Knowing that we were going to get together made me cry because I knew it couldn't happen now.
I had a weird way of showing you how I felt, so I wanted to be sure you knew how much your words and your card meant to me.
I will always keep your Christmas card and hope that maybe someday we can be together. I will never have a better Christmas than this year's because of you.
I love you,

I have since gifted tons of Christmas cards to many girls, but I've never gifted one with a Christmas tree on the cover. That one belongs to Diane, forever.
Diane and I never did get together, but my experience with her changed my life in how I saw girls then, and women later on. Yes, we were just children, but I look at my brief experience with Diane as THE most important part of my formative years. My heart was full and has remained that way ever since.
Have a Merry Christmas everyone! I hope your Christmas is as special as mine was to me, 50 years ago.

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