Thursday, July 22, 2010

Christmas in July

Note: This piece was an entry at a recent Writers’ meeting. Here were the rules: Begin your story with, “The Christmas treasure I thought I’d never find...” and end it with, “...quietly, I said, ‘Thank you."

The Shiniest Present
Paul Nichols

The Christmas treasure I thought I’d never find found me when I was a senior in high school. Our family was poor, but stable. Mom and Dad worked hard and saved hard to send our older twin brothers on to college. My sister Ruthie and I knew better than to ask our folks for anything that might hinder those boys’ education. Anyway, they would have said, “You want it? You work.”

But we had a family tradition: Mom and Dad always let us ask for a Christmas gift and tried their best to get it under the tree. For twelve years I gave them a list of five items. Every year I started the list with an electric train and a watch. Every year, I got one of the other things on the list. In my senior year my list said, 
  1. Elec Train
  2. Watch
  3. Wintertime gloves
  4. Real wallet
  5. New basketball net
Those last three items cost only five dollars or less. I needed a store-bought wallet that wouldn’t unravel like the one I made at camp several summers ago. And the basketball net was down to its last two or three strings.

“Just get one,” I told Mom, “Not all of them.” I gave her the list and waited for Christmas.

My part-time, after-school job was at Maxwell’s Market, and I was usually home by 9:30—or else! If I had had a watch, I would have been home on time, every time. I once vowed I’d save up enough for a real nice watch.

Mom and Dad saw to it that I set aside a tithe and some savings, leaving me precious little spending money. But that year, I saved up enough to get Mom, Dad and Ruthie their Christmas gifts; little books full of inspirational quotes.

On Christmas morning Ruthie was up first and turned on the tree lights. She made just enough noise to get Dad up. He started some coffee. The two of them talked till Mom shuffled herself to my room and said, “Merry Christmas, honey. It’s time to get up.”

That year Mom and Dad put three gifts under the tree for me. Unusual indeed. The first, wrapped in “manly” paper, was a really nice pair of warm leather gloves. Then I unwrapped a new basketball net. I knew what I’d be doing later that day. And finally, a smooth, genuine cowhide wallet. I was pleased and I liked it right away.

But I was also embarrassed. “Dad, you only had to get one. Not all of them,” I said. My parents were poor, yet here they were squandering all their money on me. But look! Ruthie got three presents, too! One was a little watch with a bright pink patent leather band.

“There’s one last present down here waiting for someone to claim it,” Dad said.

Huh? I hadn’t seen that down there before. “Ruthie,” he asked, “what’s it say on that name tag?” She looked at it, and then looked at me. “It’s for you,” she said. “Here.”

“But I already got… Where’d it come from?”

“Open it, honey,” Mom encouraged.

I peeled off the paper and discovered a brown plastic box, hardly big enough to hold a baseball. “Wha…?” It required some twisting and prying to pop it open. Inside was something shiny. “What’s this?” I didn’t recognize it because it was upside-down, too. I had never received a shiny, upside-down present before. I turned it ov… A watch! My eyes saw it, but my mind had to wait a minute to catch on.

A watch! They gave me a watch for Christmas! “I don’t think this is for me,” I said quickly.

“Yeah, it is!” my sister yelled. “I got one, too!”

“But Mom…Dad…” My eyes exploded with tears. “…this is a wa…a wa...!” I lost all composure. Completely astonished and sobbing unchecked, I lost my voice and collapsed onto the couch, my shiny, upside-down present cupped in both hands. How could they afford this? They already gave me three presents. Where did they get all the money?

Dad reminded me, “Now you take good care of that watch and it will take good care of you.” Mom stood beside him, smiling proudly.

I don’t know if I was crying because I was so surprised to find that watch, or crying because I was so proud of my hard-working parent’s extra income. They had just given me the shiniest present I ever got. I stumbled across the room and hugged my mom. Whispering quietly, I said, “Thank you.”

There is a terrific new picture on My Hats Blog. Stop by.


DBFrank said...

Alrighty, hey, thanks, 'preciate ya making me tear up, right here at work Paul ;)
GREAT story.

kenju said...

Yeah, you brought tears to my eyes too. I can barely remember Christmas as a kid. You're a good story-teller!

srp said...

I think I am having a menopausal moment..... ;)... but I have tears too!!!! Great story.

Star said...

Love that story. Wasn't it in your book, "Just Seven Blocks from the Mexican Border"? Great book, btw.

jennifer said...

What a wonderful story. I like happy tears... which is a good thing because I now have some.

Have a wonderful weekend Paul.

Sarah said...

I hope to instill this kind of gracious gift giving and receiving to my daughter as she grows up.
Thanks for sharing this Paul!

Ily said...

How sweet, Paul! After reading this post, I feel like reading your book, which is finally on my nighttable!

PS - I mentioned "Just Seven Blocks..." on my latest blog post, btw.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Oh Paul...I just love this's so beautiful. I can barely see what I'm typing through my misty eyes. You really told this well... ~Joy

Jennie said...

Loved this story Paul. :)

winguin - a wing used for swimming, not flying

srp said...

You really need to get busy with that pen again!!!

Monique said...

I remember this story! It was just as good reading it this time!

Janell said...

Ejoyed this just as much now as when I read it in your book. Nice work, Paul.
And Hank Heron is quite handsome!