Friday, December 5, 2014

Best Gift Ever

It was a Christmas morning long after I’d stop believing in Santa, but that year my excitement was as high as if I still thought the man himself had been by my house. I had asked my parents for just one thing - a silver-plated, open hole flute.

(Pause for you to mock my dorkiness. No, really, I’m well aware I was doing myself no favors back in those days. In my defense, marching band was considered kind of cool in my high school. If by “cool” you mean “the football team liked us so the truly popular kids didn’t pick on us that much.” Oh whatever. The drummers were hot. Get off my back.)

I jolted out of bed, rushed downstairs and stopped in front of the tree. I surveyed the stacks of presents my parents had set out the night prior. My eyes landed on The One: a gift-wrapped rectangle the exact size of the busted old flute case I’d been lugging around for the last few years. My heart fluttered as I thought about how great it would be to tear into that paper, open the case and see my new prized possession. Taking that thing to school instead of the dented, tarnished old instrument I’d had since fourth grade was going to be the highlight of my year. (Again, mock away. I’ll allow it.)

“Parents!” I called, as I heard my brother padding down the stairs.

Kip came in from the garage while Mum appeared from around the corner sipping a cup of tea.

“Merry Christmas!” she exclaimed.

“Merry Christmas!” I matched her enthusiasm. “Let’s do gifts!”

“Someone’s excited,” Kip with a smile, as everyone settled into their spots around the tree.

In retrospect, this should have been my first clue that something was up. Kip smiling at anything other than another person’s misfortune is wildly out of the ordinary.

I lunged for the box but Mum stopped me.

“Save that one for last!” she screamed as she fumbled with the camera case. “The camera’s not ready yet.”

Temporarily deflated, I reached for another one instead. For the next twenty minutes, I watched the rest of my family open all their gifts while tearing open the occasional one myself - some clothes, some candy, a few books. All lovely, but nothing compared to what I knew my last gift contained.

Finally, the box labeled for me was the last remaining under the tree. 

“Go ahead,” Mum said, as she turned the camera on me. I grabbed it, feeling the familiar weight of its contents and smiling. I tore into the paper and saw the signature shiny black of the case. I liberated it from the rest of the wrapping and set it on the floor in front of me. I looked up at  my parents with an appreciative smile.

“Well,” Mum said, seemingly as excited as I was. “Open it!”

I took a deep breath, clicked the case’s two fasteners open, and there, amid the lush blue velvet padding, sat…...a pepperoni stick.

“Wha?” I stammered, beyond confused. I looked up and saw each member of my family rolling on their sides, laughing their heads off.

“” I asked, still not quite processing what had happened. Where was my flute? What the hell was with the pepperoni? Why did my parents hate me?

"We got you!" Kip said through tears as Mum continued snapping shots of my perplexed face. 

"You got me?" I asked incredulous. "You got me what, exactly? Lunch meat???"

Then, looking down again at the pepperoni stick stuffed so perfectly into the spot where the flute should have been, I couldn't help but laugh too. I had to give them credit. It was a well played prank. Granted, I'd prefer to be playing my new flute, but hey, what could you do? 

Turned out, I need not worry about that, as Mum reached behind the couch and pulled out my old case. She opened it, and nestled inside was the exact flute I'd asked for. 

I loved that thing, but in all honesty, I haven't played it once since high school. It sits on a shelf in my old bedroom at my parents' house. The story, however, has been told countless times since that Christmas so long ago, and not one year goes by that I don't think of it and laugh. (My parents never let me forget it either - a couple years after the flute incident, I made the mistake of asking for an umbrella. You can imagine what I found in its place under the tree. Some years, they just flat-out gave me pepperoni sticks as presents, not in place of something else. Whatever. Every family has their thing, right?)

I guess some gifts aren't really the kind we can open, but rather the things that stay with us for the rest of our lives. I know, I know. How's that for some holiday cheese? 

Luckily, I have just the thing to go with it.

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