By Amy McCollom
Although gifts are not the focus of Christmas, and I’ve gotten on my soapbox many times about how I want to downplay the wildfires of consumerism during the holidays, when I was a kid, my Christmas memories seem to have something to do with the packages under the tree. This isn’t about the gift in the story, it’s about the story in the gift.
As a child, I was very resourceful. I always had money, not much, but enough to buy some gum and a pop if I wanted. I was frugal and could make a pack of gum last a whole week by only chewing half a slice at a time (of course I was tongue-tied and only half a slice was all I could handle at one time). One Christmas I spent a whole dollar on a set of ceramic monkeys at the dime store for my parents. They were shiny brown with fluffy feather “hair” on tops of their heads. I’ll never forget my mom’s face when she unwrapped them. I think she almost cried.
I was born with a little ornery streak, though, and knew all the words to the Christmas song, “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ For Christmas” by heart. Mom had one of those big stereos that smelled funny and was as big as a coffin in the living room, and at Christmas time she would get out the Christmas records, all four of them, and I would sit on the floor and wait for that song to come on. I didn’t dare jump with excitement or Mom would forcefully remind me not to scratch the record, that’s why I would sit on the floor to control my enthusiasm.
Being ornery, and proud of it, I couldn’t help but peek at the Christmas presents under the tree. Sometimes you could see through the paper if you held it up to the light. I also learned how to gently open one end of the package when no one was looking and tape it back later. I also taught my little brother how to do these things, because that’s what big sisters do. I learned my lesson though, when one year my parents wrapped up a bunch of empty boxes for my brother and I, and even wrapped up a box with a brick in it just to throw us off. To this day, my husband will not put any gifts of mine under the Christmas tree early. Smart man.
My mom always liked to get my dad something really nice for Christmas each year. I remember when calculators were first available. (Shh, no comments about my age, now.) My dad opened the small box as my mom stood there with that grin on her face, and my dad looked up in disbelief. Then he spent the whole afternoon trying it out. He had a notebook, a pencil, his trusty slide rule on his lap, and the new calculator sitting on the table-lamp next to him. He would work out a long complicated equation in long-hand, then he would punch it into the calculator. Then we would hear him say, “Well, I’ll be darn. It’s right again.”
The next year, Mom still had her old stereo and the same four records, but I was 11 and a recent fan of the magazine Tiger Beat. In this magazine there was an offer I couldn’t pass up! I could order 15 records for 15 cents! Boy, my family would sure be surprised when they found all these new records under the tree from me! Indeed they were, and again they were surprised when the bill for $39.98 came in January. Fine print, my friends. I learned the importance of fine print.
One year the local hardware store ran a sale on snowblowers, and Mom knew my dad would love one. We went to go pick it up in Mom’s little car, a Mercury Capri. Well, the thing barely fit in the trunk, but Mom got a free fresh Christmas tree with the purchase. We were excited because we had never had a real tree before, we just didn’t know how we were going to get it home.
The young men working that day had us pick one out, (and we chose the biggest one, of course), and then we got into our car, and they put the tree on top of the car and tied it down with rope. They had to tie it through the open windows since we didn’t have a luggage rack. When we got home, we couldn’t open our doors since they were tied shut from the top to hold the Christmas tree in place, so we had to roll down the windows all the way, and climb out of the car through the opening. It wasn’t that hard for my brother, sister, and I, but Mom found it rather difficult. We all got to laughing so hard that we just about wet our pants! Ah, good times.
Then there were the “landmark” gifts:
* The Wendy doll I wanted when I was seven on that Christmas I was so sick I had a fever of 106 and was having delusions.
* Those $50 pair of Calvin Klein designer jeans I thought would change my life.
* The star that I bought for my brother, who likes unusual gifts.
* The handmade birch dulcimer I received from my Mom and Dad.
* The small pins, buttons, necklaces, and bracelets handcrafted by my children.
* The giant Pink Panther that my sister got me one year when I thought we were no longer friends.
* The first troll doll that my husband ever gave me.
Whether we have much to give or not, it’s not about the gift in our story, it’s about the story in our gift.
And so it goes, now that I have kids of my own, and a grandchild too. New stories and memories will fill my head and my heart, and as my eyes and mind go faint like the pages of a classic novel left too long on the shelf, it is my hope that on occasion, I still recall at least one good story I have told, and may that be my gift to you.
By Amy McCollom