The best Christmas present I ever received as a child was secondhand; it had belonged to some other ten-year-old boy and my parents picked it up in a thrift shop because they couldn’t afford a new one. There is something in that memory that wraps my heart around a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.
I’m glad I chose to spy on my parents wrapping presents that year. Spying was a pretty risky, and somewhat painful, business. The drafty old two-story farmhouse I grew up in only had heat on the first floor. Therefore, the only way heat went upstairs was thru the stairwell -which was usually closed- or a 12” x 12” metal register in the living room ceiling. That register could be accessed from the hallway on the second floor and, if you could stick your little ten-year-old head in it far enough, you could see most of the living room.
As I looked at my bedroom window hoping to see Santa shoot across the sky, I heard the sound of wrapping paper, muffled voices, and scotch tape. I tried to sleep, but the urge to spy was overwhelming so I threw the covers off and slowly crawled on my hands and knees to the register. I avoided the creaky spots in the floor and gently lifted the register cover then stuck my head ostrich-like down the hole.
Presents scattered across the dining room table as Mom and Dad talked softly. Dad didn’t make much money and that was the Christmas we suddenly had extra mouths to feed because my parents were raising three grandchildren, too. I looked for the gift I had asked for: a Green Bay Packer football uniform. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I was a ten-year-old Bart Starr fan so I couldn’t help it.
There it was! Out of the box, Mom withdrew the shoulder pads, then the helmet, then the little white football pants, then the jersey. But I could tell it wasn’t new; I could tell some other little boy had played in it and stained the knee pads with dirt. I could tell my parents were embarrassed they couldn’t afford a new one; I was puzzled; yet, I felt very loved.
Of all the stuff I’d like to have back, that football uniform is on the top of the list. Attached to it is a memory that awakened me this Christmas morning.
I often wonder why that gift meant so much to me and I think I finally figured it out; it’s not the quality or the price of the gift that matters; it’s the story behind the gift.