Conjuring up dreams of longed-for toys, the presents lay under the Christmas tree. When the big day finally arrived, it took just a few minutes before I carpeted the room with wrapping paper and the already opened presents were forgotten, as I tore the wrapping from the next gift.
I remember those Christmas mornings and although I have forgotten most, there are presents I will always remember.
I was four-years old and could hardly wait to open the present from my rich Aunt Susan. It had to be special; my goodness, it came all the way from Atlanta. A beautifully wrapped, small, square box, it sat on the top of the pile of presents under the Christmas tree: when shaken it didn’t rattle or make a sound; I couldn’t figure out what it could be.
On Christmas morning it was the first present I opened. I tore off the paper, opened the box and lifted out—a hamburger. A hamburger! My rich aunt had sent me a hamburger? It had to be a great sandwich, so I sunk my teeth into it, only to bite off a hunk of soap. “Soap on a Rope,” my hamburger was soap—sending soap to a kid! That’s worse than getting underwear. Gee!
A couple of years later, I found out that even presents you want can have unexpected consequences.
It was 5:00 a.m. Christmas morning and without awakening my parents, I crept down the stairs to see what Santa had brought me. Lying in front of the fireplace was the airplane I had asked for. The plane was connected by a flexible cord to what looked like a flashlight and by pressing a button on the “flashlight,” its engine would start. As I spun in circles the plane would soar around my head. So, like a top, I whirled and flew the plane until dizziness and nausea overtook me. When my parents came down the stairs, they found a mess to clean up and a sick, miserable little boy. It was certainly not the way they, nor I, had planned to spend Christmas morning.
I was eight years old when Santa delivered my first bicycle: a beautiful red, Schwinn. Tired from having to assemble it and confident of my ability to master riding a bike, my father hadn’t installed the training wheels, so it was up to me to learn, and my father to teach me, how to ride it.
Christmas morning we went for miles, my dad running behind, gripping the seat, while,I, pedaling frantically, tried to maintain my balance. Time and again, he would let go, only to see me fall to the ground. Exhausted, after hours of trying, my father gave up; and defeated, I angrily kicked that stupid bike. The day would have been ruined, but for my older brother, who with patience and endurance greater than my father, finally taught me how to ride.
My dad had a hard and fast rule that only one gift could be opened before Christmas and then only on Christmas Eve.
I was ten-years old and one present lying under the tree entranced me. A small square box that was so heavy I couldn’t even shake it. What could it be? Perhaps…? I had no idea and I couldn’t wait to open it.
On Christmas Eve, my father gave my mother—she was part of the deal when it came to only opening only one present—and me permission to open the present of our choice. I pulled the heavy box from under the tree and tore off the wrapping paper only to find it to be full of gravel along with the following note: “The most obvious is not always the best pick. Love Dad.”
I have received many memorable Christmas gifts. Over the past few years my most unforgettable gift is that which my wife, Terri and I exchange: our time together. Whether sitting in front of the fireplace, listening to music while sipping a glass of wine; a quiet dinner in a small restaurant or an afternoon of golf, we know that our time with each other is a blessed and priceless gift.
Memories are the gifts that keep on giving. Long after the bicycle is outgrown, the soap dissolved, the airplane broken and the rocks tossed away, the memories of the moments spent with those we care for will endure. Because time cannot be purchased and is limited, it is our most precious possession and sharing it with the ones we love is a gift that helps to make Christmas special.
Merry Christmas and a healthy, prosperous and happy New Year to all.
“The only gift is a portion of thyself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson