On the ninth of January, a faceless, nameless, mailman drove another nail into Tom Hanson’s economic coffin when he delivered Tom’s MASTERCARD® bill. This had been preceded by his VISA® bill, which had ridden in on the coattails of his SEARS® bill.
“Maybe we should investigate one of those companies that helps reduce many bills down to one?” suggested Mary, Tom’s wife.
“Wouldn’t change the number at the bottom of the page,” groaned her husband.
“We could pay them off a little at a time, couldn’t we?” The plaintiff tone of Mary’s voice predicted the answer. Tom’s company had laid him off just after Christmas. His seat on the corporate airplane hadn’t provided him with a golden parachute. Blindly ignorant, he and Mary had celebrated Christmas with the expectation of job security in a world where such a relic was as extinct as dinosaurs.
“If it had only happened at some other time of the year,” Tom reflected. “Mikey’s new computer, Julie’s trip to Bermuda for March Break and the wardrobe to match, the plasma TV, and …”
“… my new bread maker,” finished Mary. Her Christmas gifts were always so boringly practical and beneficial—for everyone else.
“Think of all the money we can save on bread,” replied Tom, somewhat defensively.
Mary recovered instantly from her pique. This was not the moment to give him a hard time about his lack of imagination in gift giving.
“What do you think we should do?” she asked, wrapping an arm around his shoulder as he sat hunched over the kitchen table with due dates dancing before his eyes. He shook his head. He hadn’t slept for three nights, which was probably why the numbers and letters were doing the Payment Due Polka. The Christmas presents had only been new snow on the iceberg of car and mortgage payments, dentist and heating bills, plus the other minutiae now turned mountain.
“Sell the house.”
Can the human brain freeze and still understand with crystal clarity? Mary’s could. Her precious postage stamp on the planet—gone?
“Whoa, sweetheart. Here, sit down. I didn’t mean it, honest.” Tom grabbed his wife as she sagged into him. He pulled her gently toward a chair and pushed a half-filled glass of water toward her.
“Drink this,” he urged, wishing it were something stronger. Eons of seconds passed as Tom fought down a new fear and Mary reached for trust. She won.
“Well, if things are that bad …”
Tom’s head jerked up and his startled eyes met hers.
“… we could return the bread maker.”
It was the howling that drew Mikey and Julie into the kitchen. Mikey got to the door first. However, it was Julie who immediately concluded that though her parents might be crazy, they were in no danger of harming themselves, or each other. It was several minutes before Tom and Mary were able to put together enough coherent sentences to explain the situation.
“And mom was willing to return the bread maker?” asked Julie.
“I was only joking,” replied Mary, half truthfully.
“Well, you’re right. I don’t need to go to Bermuda during March Break. I won’t even be able to see the sand for bodies. And Mom, well, about the wardrobe …”
Mary saw where this was going and stepped in to save her daughter’s embarrassment.
“I know; my guesses about your tastes are misses. Don’t worry, I saved the receipts.”
“Dad,” chimed in Mikey. “You know Apple’s® gonna do a, ‘buy a laptop and get a free iPod’ next fall. That’s a whole lot cooler than a desktop anyway and I can take ‘em both to school.”
“No you can’t!” came two voices in perfect unison.
All eyes turned toward Tom.
“What? Oh, you mean the TV? Well, I don’t know…”
Mary smiled knowingly.
“… But I guess if you guys are going to take back all your Christmas presents, I can sacrifice mine too.”
Much later, as they lay in bed, Mary couldn’t resist asking: “Tom, what were you going to do before we decided to return our Christmas presents to help ease the strain?”
“I considered using the bread maker to start up a home bakery. I guess we can’t do that now.”
She elbowed him in the ribs. “Seriously.”
“We could’ve bought a dog—you know, to keep the mailman away.”
“All I know is that God has already given me three of the best gifts around and nothing else matters.”
Mary smiled. That answer was more than enough.
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