Dad’s Gift

This morning I woke up with the bug…the Christmas bug.  Suddenly, I can’t wait to put up a tree and start gift shopping.  It’s time for carols and cookies and secrets in stockings. 

For me, Christmas is all about anticipation.  It is the season of planning and conniving.  It starts off small, like one little golden bell jingling in the distance and as the big day approaches, other bells join in, until it all reaches a crescendo of laughter, food and gift giving.

As a child, I would slowly turn the pages of the Sears catalogue, dreaming about what presents Santa might leave under the tree.  I imagined buying diamond earrings for my mother and a gold watch for my father.  I envisioned my sisters waking up to find their bedrooms had been redecorated in thick comforters with matching floral curtains.  I laboriously read the descriptions of Tonka trucks so I could choose the very best for my brothers, and I debated upon which teddy bear would be the softest for the babies. 

This was “pretend” shopping. The reality is that with a large family and limited income, my parents had to pinch pennies to give presents to their children.  However, that did not keep them from teaching us the joy of gift giving. 

The Christmas before my seventh birthday, I was given a dollar to spend at the five-and-dime.  I slowly walked through the aisles, carefully calculating how much money each gift cost, and subtracting it from my total purse.  A delicate handkerchief for my mother.  Cubes of guest soap for my sisters.  Plastic animals that squeaked when they were squeezed for the babies.  And two little bottles of “Kings Men” after shave for my father.  The bottles were milky glass with lids in the shape of knights’ armor.  I couldn’t loosen the caps to smell what was inside the bottles, but I felt sure that anything named “Kings Men” would be delightful.  Most certainly my father, who meticulously shaved every morning, would love it.

The little gifts were punctiliously selected and taken home to my room, where I spread them out on my bottom bunk.  I selected the wrapping paper to fit each gift’s owner- jolly elves for the boys, Poinsettia for the girls, and after using half a roll of tape and several yards of curling ribbon, took the masterpieces downstairs and laid them at the base of the tree.

On Christmas morning, I rose before dawn, crept down the stairs and gasped at the plethora of gifts that found their way to our living room.  Shiny red tricycles, baby dolls that drank and wet, and sleds had miraculously appeared in our living room.  For the next few hours, ribbons and bows flew as gifts were ripped open and voices exclaimed, “Just what I always wanted!” 

When we got to the last of the pile, I saw my father’s gift.  It seemed small and insignificant next to the wool sweater vest and set of screw drivers he had already opened.  I slowly brought the package to his easy chair and he looked at the tag.  “For me?  Is this from you, Boo?”

I nodded and watched while he struggled with the tape.  He opened the package and uncapped one of the bottles to take a whiff.  As he inhaled, his eyes grew huge and he gave a small cough.  “Did you pick this out all by yourself? “

I nodded again and he gathered me in his arms.  “Thanks Boo.”

He carefully arranged the bottles in their place of honor with his other gifts and winked at my mother.  I felt my heart would burst with pride.  His favorite gift.  From me!

For years the little white bottles of “Kings Men” sat in the medicine cabinet of our bathroom.  I occasionally wondered why Dad never ran out of it, and it wasn’t until I was in college that I realized what a rancid odor was contained under the caps of armor. 

I suppose you could argue that Dad missed an opportunity to be honest with me.  You could say that children should be given more guidance when shopping for gifts- that they should be taught to “find something nice.”

But here’s the thing- when my friends are grumbling about the chore of Christmas shopping, I can’t wait to pick out a special something for a special someone.  My parents taught me to do the best with what I have and trust that the recipients will accept all presents in the spirit in which they are given.  Consequently, gift giving is easy for me.  It’s fun.  It’s exciting.  Learning to give without fear was the gift my father gave to me that Christmas. And it remains in my heart to this day.

So now, when I hear the faint tinkle of Jingle Bells playing in my head, I am tempted to ditch work in favor of some Holiday shopping.  There are gifts to be picked out.  Smiles to be won.  Packages to be wrapped and ribbon to be curled.  It’s Christmas.  It’s time for giving. 

Thanks, Dad.

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3 Comments

  1. Jeff Quinn

     /  December 9, 2011

    Garrie, this is the best. I was just thinking the other day about the hours I would spend as a child going through the toy catalog…and dreaming. In recent years we have stopped giving because of economic stress. We figured out last year we weren’t sending the right message by doing that. What is essential, as you pointed out, do the best with what you have. Great stuff. Merry Christmas!

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  2. My dad is 82 years old and very active. However he has reached the age where he has everything he needs or wants. When he does want something he goes out and buys it so gift giving becomes hard. Any great ideas?

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    • Garrie Madison Stoutimore

       /  December 10, 2011

      How fortunate you are to still have your father with you! I think a lot of people with older parents share this dilemma. How about something consumable (like his favorite homemade treat) or an activity you can do together, like a trip to the theater or a golf game? Most people with grown kids welcome the opportunity to spend time together and prefer that to anything else. Happy shopping!

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