The BIG Box

By Joan Leotta

The BIG Box

By age eight, I had already learned one of life’s hard truths. Christmas gifts for little brothers come in BIG boxes. Big sisters receive only medium and small boxes, whether from Santa or Mom and Dad. By then, I suspected that the Christmas morning stockings and presents were also from my parents. To be honest, I never really suffered in the gift category. There was abundance, and, well, I loved the puppets, crayons, cooking sets, books, and mountains of stuffed animals that I received. I had no interest in the fire engines, ride-on toys and forts revealed when my little brother’s BIG boxes were opened.

I admit that, silly though it may seem, when I spied the HUGE boxes under the tree for my brother, I had the nagging suspicion that a bigger box equaled more love. The old maxim that good things come in small packages did not ring true for me.

I thought about putting a new bicycle on my list, just so I could qualify for a big box, despite the fact that my bike was just fine. I was the same height I had been the year before – almost. I didn’t. On Christmas Eve, all of my aunts, uncles and cousins met for dinner at my grandmother’s house as usual. We opened gifts from each other and laughed a lot. After clean up, my family spent the night.

Despite staying up very late on Christmas Eve, I awakened before dawn, put on slippers and robe and crept downstairs. The Christmas tree lights were on and under it were our stockings and boxes, “from Santa.” There were many, many boxes, some big, some small – and one GREAT BIG ENORMOUS Box. I sighed.

Quietly, I perused the pile for items with my name attached. I piled my gifts by my stocking and sat down next to them to wait for my parents and Grandma to come downstairs. I opened the copy of The Black Stallion my Aunt Claudia had given me the night before. I hoped my “Santa” packages would contain a Magic Bake oven, and a new diary with a lock along with a pen. I could see that my stocking was full of candy. That made me smile. I took a candy cane cookie from a plate by the tree, arranged my gaily wrapped boxes around me and began to munch on a cookie and read my book while I waited.

As I read, I heard my brother, Mom and Dad pad down the stairs. Grandma came in a minute later. My brother and I dumped out our stockings. Mine had a bracelet, peppermints and chocolate Dutch shoes! Mom said I could eat one, or even a pair, right away since, “After all, what’s a little chocolate on Christmas morning?”

Grandma brought in a tray with coffee for the adults, milk for my brother and me and a plate of sweet rolls. Mom helped my brother open his boxes. Dad was ready with some tools to put together his new ride-on toy. I exclaimed happily over the oven and diary.

Grandma and Mom began to clean up the wrapping paper. Then Mom noticed – the BIGGEST box was still wrapped.

“Whose is this?” she asked.

I looked up. “Mom, you’d better help little brother open that one too.”

Mom stood up, read the tag and looked at me. “Why, don’t you think you can open it yourself?”

“Me? It’s for me?”

I walked over to the box. It was as high as I was tall, definitely the BIGGEST box under the tree this year and possibly, ever! And my name was clearly printed on the tag: “Joanie.”

I turned the box on its side and began to rip the paper. My hands were trembling as I tugged at the box flaps that opened to reveal a sea of shredded paper. I reached in and tossed out the paper in fistfuls. Deep down in the paper nest lay a large toy lion – silky and soft – with a golden mane. The imprisoned lion was large but not huge. The box and filling were about three times his size. I released him from this cardboard incarceration and hugged him tight. A moment later, I christened this amazing creature, “Goldie,” and he promptly became the king of my stuffed animal jungle.

I later learned my parents had ordered Goldie from FAO Swartz in New York for me. He was shipped from New York to Pittsburgh in the BIG BOX. My parents could have repacked Goldie to save on wrapping paper and avoid a huge Christmas morning mess, but it seems they had noticed my silly problem about the size of the boxes under the tree. Because of that, they decided to let me experience the joy of opening a BIG box.

It’s been a long time since the biggest box under the tree was the one I wanted. After all, jewelry comes in small boxes. But I’ve never forgotten the real gift that Christmas, learning that often when we think no one notices us, that no one is aware of our inner desires for a BIG box or whatever else, someone often does. As a parent, I’ve tried to always put this lesson into practice, carefully observing my dear daughter so I will know how to fulfill her hidden wish, to be aware of her need for a BIG box, whatever it may be.

About this writer

  • Joan LeottaJoan Leotta of Calabash, North Carolina, has been playing with words since childhood. She is a journalist, playwright, short story writer and author of several mysteries and romances as well as a poet. She also performs folklore and one-woman shows on historic figures.

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2 Responses to “The BIG Box”

  1. Rose Ann says:

    I can remember when I coveted those BIG boxes, now the smallest ones are the most exciting! Great essay!

  2. Mary Ann Crimi says:

    You remind us all that it is not the gift itself, but the giver who is the true present. A beautiful Christmas story. Thank you for writing it so eloquently.

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