‘Tis the season for gift giving. ‘Tis the season for gift receiving. And ‘tis the season for everyone to return what they got for something they really wanted.
Sad, but true.
All it takes is one good dose of the holiday spirit to make you want one really good dose of…well…spirits. And this is especially true for those who have experienced some sort of life-altering event.
I had no idea that one dead husband would change how I shop so drastically. I mean…he was just one person, right? The obvious change would be that I don’t have a present from him under the tree and I don’t have to go out shopping for something that I have no idea how it works…but I’m sure he’ll love.
My husband was an amazing Santa Claus for me. I mean, one year he actually bought me a car. Yes…a car. Sure, it was a minivan and not a Lexus…but given how much he hated minivans, I would have been less surprised if he had bought the Lexus.
I’ll never forget that Christmas morning. My oldest daughter was about 2 ½ and I was “out-to-here” pregnant with my son. Bending over to get her in and out of her car seat in my Volvo was getting inconvenient, due to the 20 lb. pot roast that was now attached to my abdomen and I had been begging my husband to buy us a new minivan.
“We can’t afford it,” was his standard answer. “Besides…I love that Volvo.”
Well, sure. Since you don’t drive it every day and have to get a squirming (and getting heavier by the day) toddler out of a backseat that’s basically sitting on the ground…I’m sure it’s a blast for you to take out on the weekends when I ask you to go buy that one gallon of milk.
On that Christmas morning, we had opened all of the presents and then suddenly my husband said to my 2-year-old, “Wait! There’s one more present hiding behind the Christmas tree! Will you get that for Mommy?”
“That’s not wery nice,” she said to him and she gave him a stern look as she crawled behind the tree to retrieve a rumpled looking gift bag.
I opened the bag and found a jewelry box inside. Now, my husband loved to buy jewelry and very rarely did he do it on the cheap. I was surprised at his thoughtfulness as I opened the box and found….
The ugliest necklace I had ever seen in my life.
Encrusted in diamonds and in a shape that I can only describe as an expanded “V” and something that an 80s Star Trek fan might wear, I immediately nailed a smile on my face as I wondered, “What in the hell am I going to do with this??”
“Take it out of the box and try it on,” he said excitedly.
And as I lifted the necklace off of the holder, I felt something on the back of the board it was affixed to.
It was a key. To my new minivan.
God, I miss that man and his cruel surprises. (As he said for years after that, “You should have seen your face when you opened that necklace!” Which turned out to be fake, thank God.)
I never knew what to get him for Christmas because everything he wanted involved a tool that he would be better off shopping for himself (or had already bought during the year, claiming that we needed to fix a $50 problem with a $500 tool). But I was very sneaky about getting him something that would make him happy at Christmas.
I would buy at least one very complicated toy to put together for one of the kids. And then hide the directions.
Oh, he loved a good project! He could lie on the floor for hours on Christmas Eve as my parents and I watched him construct some sort of toy that looked so simple at Wal-Mart…but in reality came in 2,000 pieces, 5 of which were missing.
The first year he was gone, I realized that it was now my dad and I who would have to put the toys together. And even though my dad is a good sport…I didn’t know if I had what I needed in my wine budget to get him through putting together a child’s tool bench.
Even the simple toys I got seemed to be complicated. My oldest daughter wanted one of those “Fur Real” cats that, to be quite honest, reminded me of one of the animals in “Pet Cemetery.” I didn’t realize that the damn thing was motion activated. So when I hid all of the kids’ presents in my basement that year, it would scare the shit out of me when it meowed as I walked past, looking for Christmas decorations. I tried and I tried to figure out how to turn the darn thing off, worried that the kids would find their Christmas stash thanks to this demon cat…but I could never find the switch.
“Let’s take out the batteries,” my dad said on Christmas Eve, worried that the meowing would wake the kids in the middle of the night as we set out the presents.
“Okay,” I said, turning the cat over and over, looking for where they went in. “But I can’t find them.”
“Let me look at it,” he said, and I left him to deal with that problem while I started in on the other presents.
A little while later, I was still hearing loud meowing coming from the other room, so I decided to go in and see what kind of progress he was making. And when I walked in, I saw something that I will never forget (although I wish I could).
My dad was sitting in my recliner with the cat turned upside down, drawn up close to his face, and his eyes fixated in the cat’s behind.
“I think they must be in here,” he said, with no idea how disturbing this whole scene was.
“Dad…if the batteries are up that cat’s behind…there is something wrong with the manufacturer of that toy and I want nothing to do with it.”
It all worked out eventually. The cat stopped yowling, but it never stopped giving me the creeps, staring at me with its glass eyes and its head following me when I walked around the room. The kids had a great Christmas, completely oblivious to how much our holidays would be forever changed without the clever man who loved surprises.
But my point is…I had memorable Christmases with him. And I’ve had memorable Christmases without him. It will never be the same…but that’s how life works.
My love of laughter didn’t die with him.
Memories have still been created since he’s been gone.
Finding joy in unexpected moments is something I’ll never grow tired of.
And those were the gifts I’ve been giving and receiving all along.