Friday, December 23, 2011

A gift for giving

Countdown to Christmas 2 days

Knowing her own children, my mother did not put gift tags on presents. She wrote in faint, faint, pencil, very small, with terrible penmanship, on the back of each gift the first initial of the recipient.

Here is how that played out every year on Christmas morning. The kids would get up at about 6 am to see what Santa had left for them, unwrapped, along with their stocking. Whooping and hollering ensued. I'm pretty certain all the candy in the stocking helped that. My dad would get up first (probably because my mother had gone to bed at about 5 am after finishing wrapping everything) he stumbled around as he was waking up, trying to smile at how excited we were by all we had received from Santa, then the inevitable would happen.

That's my candy cane.
"No it's not."
Yes it IS, it came out of MY stocking.
"Well it was on MY side of the table."
That's just because there's too much stuff on the table, give it back!
"I'm not giving you MY candy!"
That's not fair! We all got the same amount and now you're stealing! Dad! Daaaaad!!!!!

That's when my dad would snap, hair sticking up in all directions, "Can't you goddamn kids keep quiet? Why the hell do you have to get up so early every year? Every year the same thing! I'll solve the whole damn problem, I'll take all the candy on this table and I'll give it to the orphans!" Which basically means that it must be 7 am because it happened exactly the same every year. Hearing all this, my mom wanders out all squinty eyed because she doesn't have her contacts in yet, "Ted... ?" Which is the cue for my dad to throw his hands up in the air and go make breakfast as a way to apologize for yelling at us on Christmas morning.

After breakfast (thanks dad!) we settle into our circle around the Christmas tree in the living room. You need to be spaced out a fair bit so you have room to open all your gifts, discard the wrapping paper, then stack your booty next to you. My job was to forage under the tree and pass out the parcels.

Remember, my mom doesn't use any gift tags, just faint pencil first initials, This on has a J, it's mine. This one has a D, Debbie. This one has a... um... I can't read this. And my mom would take the gift and hold it close to her eyes and squint, then turn the package, then move it away from her eyes, then turn the package, and say, "I think it's a G, try Gary." And this would be repeated over and over again until we came down to the last ten gifts.

There were five of us. Each person had a "final gift" the BIG FINISH if you will. It wasn't necessarily the most expensive gift. It could be the most elusive gift, that you were certain no one would find for you. And then there is "the perfect gift", something so unique that you never knew it even existed, so there was no way you could have asked for it (such low expectations here). Perhaps it is the complete opposite of all these things. It is actually exactly the gift you are totally expecting but you have been a pain to shop for. So here it is. Yes, you are getting it. But you still have to wait and wonder if maybe you aren't actually going to get it after all...

But that's five gifts you say. Why are there ten gifts in a holding pattern?

That's because my mother has terrible penmanship, a faint pencil, and her contacts haven't fallen into proper place just yet. There are now 5 "big finish" gifts and 5 "mystery gifts."

My mother looks over the stack of gifts each person has next to him or her, cataloging what she sees and trying to figure out what is missing. Then she looks at the 5 mystery gifts trying to remember which misplaced gift would be wrapped in which way. "Hand me that short flat one," the short flat one is inspected all over the back until at last an initial is spotted, "A-HA! This one is for Gary!" Sometimes, halfway through the wrapping paper reveal, my mom would shout, "Wait! Stop! That wasn't a G! It was a D! That gift is for Debbie!" This is repeated until all the mystery gifts are passed out and then it is Final Gift Round.

My sister gets a hairdryer of her own! My brother gets the stereo from the Tupperware gift catalog! And me... and me... and me?.... (Okay, we all know it's not a puppy, right?) I got an electric railroad set!

Merry Christmas!


A Lewis said...

Man oh man, remember those little icicles on the tree!

Cheryl said...

I do so enjoy your stories, Jim.