My father was a pure-dee nut. Although he could be very serious when the situation warranted, most of the time he engaged in the kind of subtle silliness that kept everyone’s eyes in a perpetual, disbelieving roll…accompanied by the type of laughter that gets away from you despite your best effort to keep a straight face. The trait must have been genetic, because he passed it on to all four of his offspring.
One Christmas shortly after he returned from a tour in Viet Nam, my father’s sense of humor took a turn for the exasperating. As usual, the six of us sat around the tree waiting for Momma to open the last gift: her present from Daddy. A child of the Great Depression, Daddy usually gave Momma something practical—no less loved, but practical.
On that Christmas, quiet and well-behaved for once, we kids focused rapt attention on the mammoth present in Momma’s lap. Also a child of the Great Depression, she always unwrapped gifts with great care, in order to save the paper and ribbons for use the following year. Momma folded the paper and set it aside, then lifted the lid from the box. Inside lay another wrapped package. She dutifully—and carefully—unwrapped that box, too. Yet another wrapped parcel emerged. And so it went, for what seemed like fifty layers. With each new layer, Momma and all four of us kids gave Daddy one of those ducked-chin, cocked-brows looks that said “I’ll bet you think you’re funny, don’t you?”
Not in the least affected by our disapproval, Daddy continued grinning and chuckling.
Finally, Momma opened the last box. Inside was a worn-out combat boot she thought she’d disposed of months ago.
My siblings and I are lucky our eyes didn’t stick at the apex of an enormous, simultaneous roll. The synchronized groan shook the rafters.
Lips pinched but curved the tiniest bit at the corners, Momma speared Daddy with an undisguised “I’ll kill you when the children aren’t watching” look and reluctantly reached inside the bedraggled boot. From the deepest, darkest recesses of the toe, she withdrew a tiny, elegant box.
A moment frozen in time will remain in my memory long past eternity. Inside the box was a beautiful ring. Diamonds and deep-blue sapphires sparkled with a thousand points of light. Daddy gently slipped the gift onto Momma’s trembling finger.
I hardly ever saw my mother cry, but tears trickled down her cheeks that morning.
Momma and Daddy are gone now, but the ring and the memories will live forever. That sparkly Christmas present from long ago, and the memory of its giving, are among my most cherished possessions.
May your holidays be filled with the little irritations all families inflict upon one another. Even those—perhaps especially those—are priceless gifts.