Monday, December 14, 2009
The Set Up
I do my best to give gifts that I hope will make a lasting impression. Looking back on my childhood, I remember the Christmas gift I just-had-to-have-or-I-would-surely-burst. Much like the kid in the movie A Christmas Story felt about that coveted Red Ryder gun, I hungered with a fiery passion to own a certain toy. I cannot recall ever wanting anything so badly before. I had been to the matinee to see the movie Mary Poppins. And the much-in-demand present for girls that year was a mini plastic version of Julie Andrews with a fetching brunette up-do, holding an umbrella. Here’s the peculiar aspect of the story—I didn’t even like dolls—dolls were my little sister’s obsession.
Eavesdropping, I overheard my dad tell my mom that he had driven all over town, he had visited several stores and they were fresh out of Mary Poppins dolls. He suggested they buy me a new winter coat instead. A new coat? A lousy coat! I skulked to my room where I let out a frustrated cry.
On Christmas morning Dad instructed my big brother to hand me a big soft box. Just the kind of box an unexciting winter coat would be wrapped in. I tried my best to muster up a little enthusiasm as I tore off the wrapping paper but it wasn’t easy, I didn’t give a hoot if the sleeves on my ratty coat were too short, if it was missing a button or two. I was surprised to find that the box didn’t contain a coat after all. I was staring down at a fluffy white robe sporting a chiffon sash. It was a pretty. I had to admit that much.
“Well,” Mom said, “try it on.” I pulled it out of the box, as I slipped it on over my pajamas, my brother handed my sister a similar box. With lightening speed, she tore open her present, and wouldn’t you know it? Although we were two years apart, my parents insisted on dressing us alike. I hated wearing the same exact clothing as my little sister. When would they get it through their thick skulls? We were not the stinking Bobbsey Twins!
My tiny little sister was positively thrilled. As she twirled around the living room on her tippy-toes, modeling her new robe, I sat back and pouted.
“What’s wrong,” Dad asked.
“Nothing,” I sank further into the cushions of the couch.
He handed me another present. It was heavy. “This might put a smile on your sourpuss.”
It was a board game, based on the presidents of our country. I feigned interest. Dad explained that he had picked it out himself. He would help set up the game and teach me how to play, thus imparting his delight with all things presidential to his progeny.
My brother shook his head and said, “Count me out. I’m not playing. Sounds boring.”
Dad gifted Mom an iron, a stand-up mixer, and a set of pots and pans. I attributed his choices to their ensuing break-up and separation. My mother was no happier with her presents than I was, I could tell. She rustled up a couple of oohs and awes, but how on Earth could she be blown away by household appliances? I knew I wouldn't be thrilled, if my future husband gave me stuff to facilitate doing chores. Yuk.
Dad suddenly stood up, walked across the room, and reached behind the record cabinet to pull out one last present. He handed that last present to me, and behold, the box was just the right size and shape. I shook it for good measure. I felt certain I was holding my very own Mary Poppins doll!
They had set me up. My parents had fabricated a story, knowing full well I was lurking about that day. They staged the phony conversation about the shortage of Mary Poppins dolls, adding the finishing touch, planting the seed that I was going to get a winter coat instead. How clever. How deliciously diabolical. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were capable of being so shrewd.
I lugged around my gift for a couple of days, discovered it was just another dumb doll, and eventually abandoned the previously coveted Mary Poppins to my sister’s collection of Barbie’s and diapered babies.
However, the game about the presidents, I adored. I urged everyone to play, every chance I got. The Nelson triplets from down the street, my unenthusiastic big brother, even my fidgety little sister got roped into sitting with me while I displayed my knowledge about Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. But, even more impressive was my ability to remember what had excited Dad, much more obscure facts and aspects about lesser-known presidents, and their foibles, deeds, and accomplishments while serving in office.
And, that robe, oh how I loved that fluffy white robe with the luxurious chiffon sash. They were the most glamorous garments my sister and I had ever owned to date. We would bring out mom’s crystal for months to come, pretending to drink champagne instead of pink lemonade, donned in our finery, doing our best Audrey Hepburn. Dahling!
Feel free to share your memories of Christmas gifts, (given or received), from the past, won’t you?
All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.