Monday, December 10, 2007

The Not So Perfect Gift

Advent Calendar, December 10: Gifts

Christmas Eve was always so special: a splash of color, glitter, mystery, and excitement to break up the everyday lull. I think Mom was the most excited of all. For a patient woman, she seemed decidedly impatient to get on with the fun of Christmas.

Early on, she started a family tradition where my sister and I were each allowed to pick a present from under the tree and open it on the night before Christmas Eve: "The Night Before the Night Before Christmas," as it were. We always knew to scrutinize each present before the 23rd of December came around - ready to pounce when given the go-ahead, thereby lessening the possibility of her changing her mind at the last moment.

But, why is it that no matter how many wonderful, thoughtful, lovely, and brilliant gifts we receive, it's always the weird ones we remember the most?

During our family get-togethers with "the other side" of the family (Dad's side), we usually had a dinner party. Names were drawn ahead of time for gifts. Each party-goer knew exactly who they would need to bring a present for, so there was always one perfectly chosen present per person.

Not so perfect, in some cases, unfortunately.

On one of these Christmas gatherings, I watched as family members each received their single, anonymous present. Oh, how lovely they all were, or appropriate, at least. Everything seemed to fit. In past years, I had received talcum powder, a carved jewelry box, selections of lacy handkerchiefs, or some sort of feminine treat of the type usually offered to a young girl.

I waited calmly for my turn, because I felt certain I would not be disappointed.

Near the end of the gift exchange, someone called my name and placed a wrapped box into my hands. Savoring the anticipation, I slowly removed the ribbon, peeled off the tape and unfolded corners of the paper. Hmmmm, it smelled a little like soap. There were fleeting thoughts of having to take more baths, but, oh well, I could live with a pretty pink soap, or whatever.

When I opened the cardboard box, a lumpy, dark, waxy round thing spilled out on the end of a thick string. "Ackkk... what is that?" I wondered to myself before I dared touch it.

I gingerly rolled the thing from side to side, looking at it from every angle. There were three small round indents on one side, like someone had pushed a pencil top into the surface. The sphere felt soft and sticky, and did indeed smell like soap, but strong soap, sort of like the Old Spice aftershave Dad splashed on before going to church on Sundays. Attached to this blucky, waxy, green-black sphere was a coarse, burlap rope that was scratchy to the touch.

I was still puzzling it over when someone nearby took the thing in hand, and said, "Oh, that's a soap on a rope... looks like a bowling ball."

Green-black soap on a scratchy rope? Bowling ball?

Dear Reader, are you wondering what gentle, hopeful yuletide dreams were dashed that evening?

What person would give an undebatedly ugly bowling ball soap on a rope (a man's gift, and a bad one at that) to a ten year old girl?

You know, I'm still pondering the answer to that question myself...

Image: ©2000 Denise Van Patten - Doll Collecting at


  1. Wow. Perplexing, and a little sad. What were they thinking?

    I'm guessing that the gift giver was regifting something they received at a previous occasion that they didn't want. Probably a male somebody.

    Got any male tight-wads in your family?

  2. Oh yes, I'm sure it was regifted. It was just one of many reality slaps in the life of a child. I think it's laughable now, and I didn't really worry too much about it at the time, but I thought it strange... Did they really think a kid wouldn't notice? ;)

  3. I may have been disappointed a time or two but the gifts were obviously picked for me. I hope you never got anything else like that at the gift exchange!