It was Christmas Eve many years ago. My family and I were sitting around a lovely dinner table in Annapolis discussing our most disappointing Christmases ever. My mother recounted her story of when she was a little girl and how tragically disappointed she was to wake up one Christmas morning only to find there was not a pony in her back yard as she expected. Santa had apparently let her down that year and given the pony to someone else.
Try as I might, I couldn’t recall a time when I was disappointed; all my Christmases have been relatively happy ones spent with family.
My brother, on the other hand, could remember one particular Christmas that was not so merry and bright for him.
He remembered it vividly: The Christmas gifts were piled all around the room, he said. Piles here. Piles there. All with name tags, my mother placed the packages into piles. When we got too old and Santa and his elves courted other smaller children, my mother continued to make Christmas fun for us all. If I received bras and underwear in a package, she would write “To Stephanie, From Jim Palmer” (he was an Orioles pitcher who posed for Jockey underwear for years). If I got a CD, the tag would say, “To Stephanie, Love Sting.” You get the picture.
My brother’s pile was next to him, and we went around the room, the four of us, opening gifts. One at a time, we would open them. My brother recalled that I got a necklace and a pearl ring that year, and he thought how cool my gifts were; I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but this recollection stood out to him. After opening pajamas, underwear, a book, etc., he kept his eye on a package. On the rug next to him sat a very large, wrapped gift, and he was purposely saving that one to open last, surmising there was something very exciting inside of it. When it was time to open our last gifts, my brother was befuddled to find that there wasn’t actually anything remarkable at all inside that large package, but rather just a pair of green fireman’s rubber boots with yellow trim.
Hence, he stated, it was his most disappointing Christmas ever.
When we left the restaurant that evening, my father, mother and I went back to their house.
“Come here,” my father said to me as he opened the basement door. “I have an idea.” Something in his voice and his raised eyebrows told me he was up to no good.
We went down to the basement where my dad opened a small closet door, one that kept old things like pom-poms from my cheerleading days, old ice skates, an unused fish tank, and other assorted keepsakes.
“Do you know what’s in here?” he asked me as I heard him rustling through the back of the closet.
He promptly turned and held them up with a cheeky grin on his face. I snickered.
“Guess what he’s getting for Christmas tomorrow?”
Giggling and deeming ourselves very clever, we wrapped up said gift and placed it in my brother’s Christmas pile.
As you can probably imagine, Christmas morning came with all its normal hoopla. And as you can probably also imagine, although you are not familiar with my brother but are probably keen to human tendency, the best part of this story is that yes, history repeats itself, and my brother saved that large package once again as his last to open. I guess it’s true that old habits die hard.
The room erupted with laughter when my brother got “booted.” He held up those boots—the exact same pair he saved to open until last all those many moons ago—and we were all left holding our stomachs as we laughed hysterically. I think my father chortled the hardest, and I wasn’t too far behind him. My brother was a good sport, and he posed with those boots for the camera for one terrific shot.
While no one has received the boots in a couple of years, one never knows when they might reappear, disguised in this year’s Christmas wrappings.