An empty, red and blue metal pail

Rick Ryckeley

No question about it, he was nuttier than Aunt Martha’s fruitcake. It was just a few days after Christmas, and we all thought Steve Summers was joking. He had the nickname Goofy Steve because he was always doing goofy stuff, but this was by far the goofiest thing he’d ever done.

What kid asks Santa to bring them an empty metal pail for Christmas and is actually happy that he received it?

Each of us kids living on Flamingo Street had asked Santa either in a letter or in person for that one special gift, but an empty, one-gallon, red and blue metal pail? It was the silliest gift anyone could ask for. Still, in less than a year, every boy living on Flamingo would ask Santa for the exact same one-gallon, red and blue empty pail. Here’s why.

The first dirt clod battle of spring had started a little before noon, and to say we were losing would be a grand understatement. My three brothers and I, Bubba Hanks, and the kid we all called Booger were getting annihilated.

Ambushed by Bully Brad and his gang of three, we were pinned down behind a small hill in the middle of the vacant lot next-door to Neighbor Thomas’s house. The bombardment of dirt clods was relentless and all hope was lost — until the sudden appearance of Neighbor Thomas and Goofy Steve.

Goof was carrying his red and blue, one-gallon pail. Sneaking up behind Bully Brad and his gang of three, the dynamic duo pounded them with dirt clods retrieved from the pail. Facing attacks on two fronts, Bully Brad and gang retreated, and the silliest gift anyone could ask for from Santa started to look not so silly after all.

The coolness of spring eventually gave way to heat of summer, and if you were a kid with a bike during that time, chances are you’d be riding up and down Flamingo — right up to the point a bully ambushed you. The dirt clods of spring were replaced with water balloons of summer — our choice of artillery against Bully Brad and his gang of three.

Unlike dirt clods that could be stuffed into pockets, whenever we were in water balloon battles, we were limited to just two per kid. We were, that is, until Goof decided to join Twin Brother Mark and me for what will forever been known as the Great Water Balloon War.

Mark and I were outnumbered and out of water balloons against Bully Brad and his gang of three when Goof joined our battle. Goof, a tall skinny kid with strawberry hair and a face full of freckles, always looked as if he was tripping over his own feet while walking. He always made us laugh, but when he came running up behind us carrying his red and blue pail full of water balloons, no one was laughing. We thought he looked like a mighty warrior.

Shortly thereafter, one soggy bully and his wet gang ran for the hills, giving us another win — and a greater appreciation for the versatility of Goof’s not-so-silly Christmas gift from Santa.

Finally, that December, a monster of a snowstorm hit Flamingo. Dumping almost two whole inches of snow overnight, it closed schools and caused every kid on Flamingo to rush out to start making snowmen, snow angels, and snowballs. Again, Bully Brad and his gang of three pinned down my brothers and me. Lucky for us we had a secret weapon that won the great snow battle: Goofy Steve and his red and blue pail — a pail now full of snowballs.

Remembering back about that empty pail given to Goofy Steve for Christmas, I realize how full it really was. I just couldn’t see it then. That’s why, amongst all the other gifts our two granddaughters received, they got one special gift from Santa.

Each received an empty one-gallon, red and blue metal pail. It’s an empty pail that I sure will soon be filled with their imaginations … and perhaps a few dirt clods, water balloons, and snowballs along the way.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog:]