Finding the Greatest Gift Ever

By Jeffery Cohen

When I was seven years old, I thought the greatest gift I could ever receive was the Zorro hand puppet in the window of a local department store. Each time my mother and I passed that display I made it clear that my life depended on owning the tiny replica of the TV hero as my tiny finger slashed an invisible ‘Z’ in the air. After weeks of begging that seemed to fall on deaf ears, I started searching for empty soda bottles and collecting their two cent deposits. It took almost a month before I had enough pennies saved to buy the dollar puppet. My mother grudgingly escorted me to the store where I proudly laid out my pile of coins and swooped up my new treasure. As we exited the store, my mom looked down at me and said, “When your father isn’t working in the winter and we’re starving, you can eat that Zorro puppet.” In an instant, the greatest gift one could ever receive changed into some sort of evil demon that would put our whole family out in the street in the dead of winter. I think I played with Zorro once, and then shamefully hid him away in the back of my closet.

When I was eight years old my father took me downtown to shop for a Christmas gift for my mother. I wandered up and down the aisles of the shops on Main Street, sniffing from bottles of perfume, sampling sweets, eyeing lace handkerchiefs, and then I saw it! The greatest gift ever! There on the counter of the costume jewelry department was a pair of molded medal earrings shaped like conga drums and maracas, painted gold and turquoise and pink. “These are beautiful,” I sighed. “And they’re only ninety-nine cents.” Just the amount of coins I happened to have in my pocket.

My father shook his head. “They’re cheesy looking,” he reasoned. Cheesy or not, I knew they were the greatest gift I could ever give my mother, even if my father didn’t. When my mother unwrapped my gift on Christmas morning there were tears in her eyes. My mother wore that gaudy pair of earrings with pride, looking as regal as a Latina queen, even though she was actually of Slovakian descent.

At ten years old I decided to buy my father something really different for his birthday, instead of the usual tie that he never wore anyway. I remembered that Dad liked to draw when he was young and, in fact, he almost went to art school, so I decided to get him what every artist needed. Not a canvas and paints, or charcoal and a sketch pad. What I guessed he really needed to bring out those rare artistic talents was…a beret! I broke my piggy bank and gathered up enough coins to purchase a jaunty beret. I can still remember the blank look on my truck driver father’s face when he opened the box. He did his best to act appreciative, but I think he wore that cap as many times as he wore the ties I had given him in the past.

When I was thirteen I got my first job delivering newspapers. With more than fifty customers I was raking in real money – paper money. I had saved more money to spend on Christmas gifts than I’d ever had before. As Christmas approached, I gathered up my bankroll and caught a bus to Newark, New Jersey, where monster-sized department stores lined both sides of the main street. My eyes grew wide as I raced from store to store, from floor to floor, sale to sale, on a wild shopping spree. I bought bottles of sweet smelling colognes,pairs of fuzzy slippers, scarves,cheese boards, coffee mugs, a shaving kit, and a jewelry box. For one brother I got Golferino, an entire golf course of molded plastic equipped with a mechanical man to sink putts. My other brother got Robot Commando, an actual plastic robot that was all the rage, standing two feet tall and responding to verbal commands! I dragged so many bags and boxes onto the bus that day that the bus driver nearly refused to pick me up.

On Christmas morning I proudly paraded a bevy of wrapped boxes and bags out to the Christmas tree. I can still recall the joy I felt watching my family ooh and aah as they unwrapped those gifts. In an instant, I realized just what the greatest gift actually is – it is not in the getting. The greatest gift is in the giving.

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 “Finding the Greatest Gift Ever”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your essays always spark my nostalgia and imagination. Love this one!

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