The Best Gift Ever

By Jeffery Cohen

At four in the morning I crept down the hallway and peeked around the corner at the Christmas tree that reached to the ceiling. Its lights made the room glow as they reflected off shiny glass balls and silvery tinsel draped from pine needle branches. At its bottom, a huge box lay wrapped in holiday paper, topped with a velvet red bow. Could it be? I wondered. Was it the answer to my eight-year-old dreams?

I sneaked into my brother’s rooms to gather up a couple of co-conspirators. The three of us quickly discussed whether it was okay to make an assault on the booty left under the tree. We all agreed that we had done our part. As impossible as it seemed, we’d managed somehow to stifle our excitement and calm ourselves down enough to finally fall asleep. We’d been out cold for a few hours, just long enough for Santa to make his way down the chimney, leave our presents, then disappear, as usual. It was well after midnight, we reasoned – Christmas morning had technically arrived, and we had a right, and even an obligation, to open our gifts. We quietly slipped into the living room and started to undo what we were certain Santa’s elves had taken so much time and effort to wrap. We began with small packages first, racing to inspect labels to decide who belonged to what. There was a basketball, a set of paint-by-numbers, Lincoln logs, a box of Tinker Toys, a catcher’s mitt, clothes, clothes and more clothes. A pile of crumpled holiday paper grew as we undid every gift, leaving the largest box for last. We dragged it out to the center of the floor and stared at the label that held each of our names. Paper and ribbon seemed to fly off by itself as our little hands went to work to uncover a gold box, the name Lionel printed across its top. Our screams of delight were so loud, they woke my folks. Behind satisfied grins, my parents watched as we unpacked the one gift we’d been begging Santa Claus for with letters enough to fill a mailbag. It was a Lionel train set that would soon race around metal track puffing clouds of smoke and whistling a friendly warning. The three of us agreed it was the best gift we ever could have asked for.

By the time I was twelve, I was no longer writing letters to Santa, instead lobbying Mom and Dad for Christmas gifts. A budding scientist, all I wanted was a chemistry set. I was not bothered at all by the fact that I actually knew little or nothing about science. All I wanted to do was to mix chemicals, watch things bubble, smoke, sparkle. I figured that maybe I might somehow mix a bunch of random elements into an untried concoction and come up with a cure for the common cold, a medication to eliminate pimples, or at least a new aftershave that wouldn’t burn so much when you slapped it on your face. I gently nudged my folks for months, slipping in whatever scientific jargon I gathered from watching “Flash Gordon” or dropping in Albert Einstein’s name freely whenever possible. But no matter how hard I pressed, the answer was always the same. “A chemistry set? What do you want to do, blow the house up?” I was pretty sure there would be no test tubes and Bunsen burner in my future as I dragged myself down to face a disappointing Christmas morning. But there it was – a  deluxe chemistry set, equipped with flasks, centrifuge, spoons, measuring tools,  gadgets of every shape and size, and a host of bottled crystals and powders that I really didn’t know what to do with. The one thing I did know was this was the best gift I could ever have asked for.

By the time I reached college I was a sweatshirt and jeans kind of guy, but that didn’t stop my parents from trying their best to wrangle me into the Christmas present that they wanted me to have – a nice, respectable three-piece suit. With promises of a new Beatles album or a portable TV, they led me into a department store where we somehow wound up in the men’s section. Though they did their best to interest me in something “presentable,” I skimmed over the racks of clothes as though they were invisible, until I came upon something that I not only liked, but actually wanted. It was a tweed Mod-looking outfit that could easily have been worn by any one of the popular rockers of the day. Bell-bottom pants, matching vest and a Carnaby Street, high-collared, grape-purple shirt. I ran my palm over the material as I pictured myself standing at a concert in front of thousands of adoring fans. That’s when I heard a voice that broke the magical spell.

“That’s not the kind of suit we had in mind,” my mother explained.

“Who do you think you are, Mike Jagger?” my father added. I just hung my head and headed for the nearest exit. Whatever made me think they would understand? They had no idea what it meant to be hip, groovy, or out of sight.

Christmas morning delivered pretty much what I expected to get – the usual – packets of socks, underwear, t-shirts, leaving one wrapped gift still under the tree with my name on it. I only hoped it wasn’t that nice double-breasted suit that my folks had been eyeing. I opened the box and there it was! The tweed outfit I’d fallen in love with! Nearly in tears, I flew to my room, slipped it on and stood in front of the mirror. In my eyes, I looked just like a rock star. I wasn’t certain my folks would agree, but one thing I did know. It was the best gift I could ever have asked for.

Years of Christmases had come and gone and I was pretty sure that the best gifts that I had once dreamed of were far behind me, when my son, his wife and my mother-in-law joined us, as usual, for Christmas dinner. We all settled in around the Christmas tree, and my son and his wife handed us each a small box, asking us to open them at the same time. We tore the paper away and lifted the box tops. My mother-in-law pulled out a tiny bib and shrugged her shoulders, confused. I opened mine to find a small plastic rattle, and I, too, wondered what was going on. But when my wife spotted a small bottle at the bottom of her gift box, she jumped up, let out a cry of joy, and began to hug and kiss my son and our daughter-in-law. Now it all became clear. With three little boxes, they had just told us we were about to have our first grandchild! It was the best gift we could ever have asked for.

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen

    Jeffery Cohen

    Freelance writer and newspaper columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Women’s’ Keats Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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One Response to “The Best Gift Ever”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Aw, you know how to bring a tear! Congratulations on your baby doll, the best present of all.

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