The renowned blogger and artist Judith Heartsong is very timely this month with her chosen topic for her monthly Artsy Essay competition. Although I don’t enter every single month, I try to enter as often as I can and I encourage other journalists to enter as well. It’s a fun competition and a win, win situation for all.
This month Judith challenges us to write about:
The Funniest Gift
I Have Ever
Given or Received
There is no explanation needed... let's light up the holidays with some laughter here and make sure you spell-check, use colorful and descriptive language, and tell your tale in an engaging way!
You have until the very last minute of the last hour of the last day of this holiday month to spin a yarn to share.
I have taken many days to consider this topic, and almost passed on this assignment, because I don’t have that many funny gift stories. An interesting thing happened during this process. I forced myself to sit down and really try to reflect on the Christmases of my past and the gifts I received through the years. The memories started flooding back in.
I am one of the fortunate ones that had a great childhood. My parents loved my sister and me very much and did everything in their power to protect and nurture us. They didn’t let us get away with much, but their discipline was meted out with our welfare in mind and with much evident love.
Every Christmas Jan and I were asked to write out a wish list early in November. Mom always hoped she got it well enough in advance that we would forget exactly all that we put on our lists. You see, the lists were guidelines and she never wanted us to think they were absolutes. We may have gotten one or two items from the list or, some years, not even one item depending on costs and availability of our requests.
We never went wanting, though. Christmas morning Mom and Dad always made sure we would enjoy a great Christmas under the tree and we never went away disappointed. Sometimes the occasion would call for extreme action to ensure that happiness, but if it was within their power, they would do it.
One such occasion was the year 1964. That year I wanted a model car racing set. Not the little tiny ones, but a set with the larger race cars, oh, say, six to eight inches long. The track was a figure eight design and could be set up in our living room without much problem and plenty of room.
We were living in Smyrna, Tennessee that year. My father was stationed at Sewart Air Force Base and we were about twenty miles south of Nashville. This part of Tennessee is of temperate climate and gets snow on the ground for one or two days perhaps twice a winter on average. 1964 was the year that Smyrna would have a white Christmas.
The snow began to fall late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, big white flakes, wet and sticky. Much different than the almost dry, tiny flurry type of snow we were more accustomed to. The kids in the area were elated and hopeful. Too many times we had snow start only to stop a few minutes later and disappear like a phantom in the night, silently appearing and leaving with no notice or trace.
Every few minutes I would leave the comfort of my usual spot in front of the TV, where I would be ensconced on the couch in our den. I would run to the picture window in the living room or open the back door and peer out. Once assured that the winter onslaught was still coming down, I’d march through the house and deliver the great news to any I happened upon that, “Yes, it was still snowing and it looked like it was sticking!” Or, “Yes, it’s still snowing and it looks like an inch deep now!” … and so on as the evening progressed. By bed time we were assured we would have some snow on the ground come morning. The only question was, how much? I fell asleep that night with that wonderful feeling that we would finally experience a White Christmas.
Until that Christmas, a White Christmas was only something I had seen in the movies or heard about from adults who had been raised in a colder climate. The linking of Christmas with snow on the ground was like magic to me, mystical in a sense that I could not fathom. When I awoke that Christmas Morning, I sprang out of bed and hurried to the front door. I opened it on a magical scene that I will never forget.
Every tree was covered with a white blanket. The road in front of the house was indiscernible from our front yard. There were two or three feet of snow out there and it was still falling lightly as I stood in awe. The term, “winter wonderland,” seemed no exaggeration at the time.
It was cold on that door step and I pulled myself back into the living room, withdrawing from the cold and reveling in the warmth of our house, my immediate attention fixating on the tree in front of the window. The lights were twinkling like a thousand stars beckoning to me. Pretty colors played from the lights and were reflected on the wrappings of our collective gifts. There, on the floor in the center of the room, my race car track had been constructed and two shiny cars were poised at the starting line, set to speed off at the drop of a flag.
Our custom was that the kids did not do Christmas without Mom and Dad. I danced around the house as I waited for everyone to assemble in the living room so we could open the presents. It was pure torture that Mom insisted on taking the time to brew that cup of coffee before we began. But, alas, the time finally came. My opportunity to feel the controller in my hand and press the accelerator control had arrived. I pressed the button and waited with great anticipation for the little race car to roar to life and command that little figure eight track … and waited, and waited! Nothing happened!
I checked the power cable, I checked all the connections. I read the instruction manual forwards and backwards. The car still would not budge. My racing set did not work. In today’s retail parlance it was an out of the box failure.
There I sat on Christmas morning with a toy that did not work and, for the first time in years, we were snowed in. Two feet of snow in that part of Tennessee pretty much paralyzed travel in those days. There was no equipment available to plow the highways; all you could do was to wait for it to melt.
I will never forget my father for what he did the next morning. We still had more than two feet of snow on the ground, (it had snowed some more), yet he loaded me and my defective race car set into the family vehicle. There were few cars on those snow covered roads as we made our way the twenty miles into Nashville, back to the store where the toy had been purchased.
I thought there would be no chance that the store would even be open with that much snow on the ground, but, lo and behold, we made it there and was able to make the exchange. The ride back home was one of the scariest I’ve ever made. Shortly after leaving the store, the snow began to fall again.
The visibility on the highway was about ten feet. The slippery roads became even slicker. We almost got pushed off the road by a trucker barreling down on us trying to get out of the area before being stuck there and losing precious time. The car lurched as we went into a skid, sliding across an unseen tarmac, frantically trying to maintain our path.
We made it home without further incident. I saw a side of my father that morning that I had not seen before. It was only after I returned home that I realized to just what extent my father would go and what he was willing to risk to insure the happiness of his son. Yes, that was truly a magical Christmas that year and one I will never forget.
Thank you, Judith Heartsong. I may not win a prize in this Essay Contest, because my gift was not a funny one, but the memory I retrieved was priceless. Merry Christmas everyone, and a very Happy New Year!