When my brothers and I were kids there were two things we could always count on for Christmas: cologne and soap-on-a-rope from the Avon Lady (real name). The cool thing about cologne at age seven was the authentic artistic decanter it came in. My older brothers typically got cologne in guitar or car-shaped decanters, while I was stuck with a cologne-dripping bunny. Soap on a rope — coolness on a rope is what that is. Why? Because you can hang your soap and never have to use your hands to wash. Boys under twelve usually have their fingers up their nose, so hands-free soap is pretty awesome.
Mom (her real name) usually did the Christmas shopping and more times than not there wasn’t much money to go around. Still our parents worked and sacrificed to make sure that, in addition to Avon, we each got something we wanted. For example, I remember coming out early one Christmas morning and finding an BRAND NEW ELECTRIC TRAIN SET!!!!
The best Christmas gift I ever received was the one I didn’t like. I was in college living miles away. Back home, Dad was in and out if the hospital and things were pretty tight financially. Mom had been taking ceramic classes at the community center that year and had an idea from Saint Nick himself.
One night my phone rang.
“We don’t have much money this year, so I’m making you something. What would you like?” Mom asked.
[What? No Avon? No new cars for my train set?] “That’s okay, Mom. You don’t have to make me anything.”
“Shut up. I’m going to make you something. What do you want?” She demanded in her thick New England accent.
I was studying Ansel Adams (real name) at the time and remembered the silhouette of a tree Ansel photographed that looked really cool. That’s it — a tree. “I’d like a tree, Mom. No leaves on it; just a trunk with branches. Thanks Mom.”
Vacation came and we all traveled home to eat food and yell and stab each other with forks. On Christmas Eve, we ate food, yelled, and stabbed each other with Christmas figurines. There’s nothing like having Baby Jesus jabbed up your nose to put you in the Christmas spirit.
It was then time to open the gifts. My parents apologized for not being able to give much and we all said it was fine. We were just glad Dad was getting better. Mom reminded us how much time she spent on our gifts so she hoped we liked them. My brother Huey opened his gift — a ceramic black panther with deep green eyes. Then Dewey opened his. Then Spartacus. Then me.
I pulled opened the wrapping and bows with anticipation and cheer. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A huge ceramic stump with three dumb looking owls.
I quickly thanked Mom for the gift and then made fun of it the rest of the night. I was too self-centered at the age of 19 to notice if her feelings were hurt. I’m too ashamed 30+ years later to tell her I’m sorry.
At the end of the visit I took the hideous gift back to college and shoved it in a closet under some dirty laundry. The stupid thing followed me from apartment to apartment for five more years. I finally freed myself from the grip of the albatross by abandoning it in the corner of a storage unit.
A huge ceramic stump with three dumb looking owls that I discarded was probably one of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received, and, next to the gift of God’s own Son, one of the most costly. Sometimes in my broken humanity I can’t comprehend how much the simplest gift has cost the giver.
Calvin G. Roso © December 2013