Times were hard in the mid ‘50s and being a Christian family, my husband and I knew that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus and not the giving of gifts. So the fact that there was not enough money for us to exchange gifts was not a big deal at our house. Our Christmas season was filled with worshiping, pageants, caroling and other Christian activities—and we were content.
Our two children were very small and wouldn't yet understand that their Christmas fare was meager. So there was peace on earth at our house.
But, not so at our neighbor's house. Christmas gift exchange was a big deal for them. The wife and kids, trimmed the tree, and in spite of their skimpy budget, spent many hours shopping and secretly wrapping gifts for each other and for John, their husband and father. But, John, didn’t get it.
I could have told him it wasn’t a good idea, but he wouldn’t have listened to me anyway, so I waited until after Christmas to see the results of his action. Today, it’s hilarious. Back then it bordered on insane.
Most men are not “gifted” in gift giving. And, John was no exception. He didn’t have a clue when it came to buying his wife something for Christmas.
Now, John was a hard worker. He worked every day without complaining and brought his paycheck home to his family. The children were small, his wife wasn’t working and they were putting every penny they could spare into building a new house. Things were tight in John’s household this particular Christmas.
Besides the expense it would take for a nice gift for his wife, John worked a lot of hours and time was of value too. He just put buying a gift off until too late. It was the afternoon before Christmas and the stores were closed. So, when his boss presented him and his co-workers with a ten- pound block of cheese each, it seemed perfectly logical, to John, to wrap it and place it under the tree for his loving wife. Problem solved! Hmmmm…
Now, a ten-pound block of cheese could feed a lot of mice, but John, instead, set his own trap. I would love to have been a fly on the wall (or maybe a mouse in the corner of the living room?) on Christmas morning at John’s house.
A few days after Christmas, John’s wife came over for a brief visit. I’ll never tell him what she said to me. It would probably end their marriage. But he was doing pretty good on his own, so I decided not to interfere. Let’s just say he didn’t rack up any “Brownie” points (but that’s about cookies—another story). I also hoped he liked macaroni, because he was going to be getting a lot of it wrapped in his lovely Christmas gift to his wife.
Winters are cold in Illinois, but the chill at the neighbor’s house was so heavy it could be seen. It lay like fog over a pond. I didn’t see a smile enter or leave their house for weeks. Even the kids knew better than to display a slice of a grin on their faces until they were out of sight of the house.
The fog lifted in a few weeks, but the chill remained. It was still there when we moved away a few months later. Poor John.
I know that I’ll never forget that Christmas as long as I live. Since that memorable experience, every time I face a camera and someone shouts, “Say cheese!” I have no trouble smiling. I just think of John.
Author’s Note: This is a true story—with a little embellishment.
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