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.

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.


Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Ha! That's a great story! I really enjoyed it!

My favorite Christmas gift was a pottery wheel I got one year. It was one of those things that when the clay wore out, that was it. But I really loved trying it out!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great story :)

Christmas memories really are magic, aren't they. My fave was a huge stuffed dog - best ever!

Joanne said...

Oh great story, your parents certainly knew your heart! One of the best gifts I received was in recent years, my Olympus camera. It brought my blog to life :)

staceyjwarner said...

great share! your parents it!

much love

Alix said...

Oh Elizabeth... what a great post! I remember similar Christmases and similar undercover maneuvers.

That's what makes childhood magical. Yes?

I received only a few Christmas gifts that were memorable. But I also remember my sister getting a Barbie Dreamhouse that I always coveted and wished was mine.

I love that the gifts you were least interested in turned out to be the most meaningful and that your mother got cookware and appliances. That's a SCORE at Casa Hice.

♥ Casa Hice

Journaling Woman said...

How I love your Christmas story. My dad always had to try to out wit me because I was too wise for normal Santa antics.

I would have loved the presidents game too and would love a fluffy white robe with a chiffon tie please...this Christmas.

Oh, Oh my favorite Christmas gift was a guitar during my 16th year. I taught myself to play. I still have it.

Great post, Elizabeth!

Nancy said...

I loved this story, Elizabeth. We all have a Christmas story like this don't we? For me it was my horse, Samanthy. It was the only thing I got that year (except for a desk set for my bedroom - which was no surprise because I had already searched and found it) but she surely was the best gift I ever received.

L.T. Elliot said...

My favorite Christmas gift? I think it wasn't a gift so much as it was a moment. My father and I, sitting by the Christmas tree, taking off our glasses to watch the lights dance and float. He said to me, "Other people see the lights twinkle but you and I feel the glow."
And he was right. I still feel that glow.

Mr. Shife said...

Great story Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing. One year my parents set me up like that as well. All I wanted was a basset hound puppy, and my mom played with my emotions with every present she gave me. The second-to-last one was a stuffed animal - pound puppy - and then as I sulked on the couch thinking I didn't get my beloved basset in comes our neighbor through the front door carrying a basket with a basset hound puppy. It was the greatest. His name was Higgins and he was my very first basset love.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Pots for Xmas- I think that's why the marriage ended!

My favourite present was a Suzy Smart doll- she came with her own desk and chalkboard. The chalkboard was the thing. Writing on a chalkboard seemed to my 5 year old self as the most powerful thing a person could do. Strange I eventually became a teacher. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

What a great story! And with a twist ending. :)

Santa Claus (another teacher at the school where my dad taught, I found out later), called me at my grandmother's house to wish me a Merry Christmas. I was SO EXCITED!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Kim said...

Love this story. I remember one year we had just seen Grease and I was fairly young but was CRAZY about the movie and John Travolta and wanted to look just like Olivia. I didn't tell my parents that I wanted the Grease album - my mom was quite conservative when it came to movies that featured sex or scandal - once when she saw a bra ad where the woman wore just her slip and a bra, she wanted to call the network and have the ad pulled.

Anyway so on Christmas morning I saw a thin flat gift tagged for me and inside my heart jumped because I was sure it was the Grease album. When I opened it, I swallowed a lump in my throat and held back a sob because it was a record filled with some nun singing hymns.

Pixygirl said...

I remember that Christmas! My favourite gift was the book that Dad gave me. I treasured that for many years., especially after he moved away. Thanks for the memories.

Stacy Post said...

What a wonderful memory! Thanks for sharing it. :)

One of my favorite Christmas memories came later in my life, in my early twenties, when I lived alone in a tiny studio apartment. I bought my first Christmas tree and only had enough money left over for a few strands of lights. That first night, I slept on the floor by the tree because the lights were so beautiful.

The Victorian Parlor said...


This is wonderful! I loved it! I must say that I chuckled when I read about the appliances for your mother. Men really don't get it soemtimes:).

My favorite Christmas memory would have to be the year that I got my beloved Barbie, my horse that is:). Every Christmas and Birthday my entire life when asked what I wanted the answer was always the same-a horse. When I was 15 that wish finally came true. Mind you I got my horse, Barbie, in Septmeber but she was an early Christmas present (I didn't care when I got her so long as I had my own horse). She was my best friend for the 26 years that I had her. She passed at the age of 34 on January 3rd two years ago. To date she is still my best Christmas present:).



lakeviewer said...

Great story! It takes me back to the time my daughter wanted a Cabbage Patch doll.

Cloudia said...

Thanks for sharing your childhood!

Aloha, Friend

Comfort Spiral

Cheryl said...

That's so sweet! Your dad sounds really thoughtful.

My favorite Christmas gift was a American Girl type doll with a travel trunk and tons of accessories (which I had spent weeks begging my parents for) and a stuffed dog I named Starlight which I used to sleep with every night and now sits on my comfy reading chair.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Oh, I LOVED this!!! I was infatuated with Mary Poppins as well...not the dolls...but rather, wanted to BE Mary Poppins...My coveted gift? A vinyl recording of Julie Andrews singing all those wonderful songs...Great Christmas memories...Such a happy, and fitting ending!!! ~Janine XO