Dan Conradt: There’s no better present than a hug from Mom
The lady behind the counter smelled like lilacs and reminded me of Grandma. Except for the earrings; Grandma never wore earrings, especially earrings shaped like little Christmas ornaments.
The plastic nametag pinned to her sweater said “Dorothy.” The sweater matched the earrings.
I’d spent nearly an hour debating a dozen options before I finally made my choice. I slid it across the counter.
“Oooooh, isn’t this pretty!” Dorothy said, holding it up for a better look. I wasn’t sure if it was or not, but her reaction was encouraging. To me it was a little too pink, but the rhinestones were nice.
She found a price tag attached to one sleeve and punched some buttons on her cash register.
“That will be $9.99,” she said. “Will this be cash or charge?” She said it with a smile; she probably didn’t have many 10-year-old boys come in with credit cards.
She probably didn’t have many 10-year-old boys come in at all, for Pete’s sake!
“Just regular money,” I said, pulling a handful of coins and crumpled bills out of my pocket. The coins rattled on the counter, sounding harsh against the Christmas music playing softly in the background.
The wish list came out of my pocket with all the money, and I read it again, just to make sure. There it was, the third item on the list, after “perfume” and “stationery”; my brothers already called dibs on those.
“Would you like me to gift-wrap this?” she asked. She must have seen the panic in my eyes: “It’s free,” she said with another smile.
“Uh, yes … please.”
“Which paper do you like?” she asked, gesturing to six big rolls of wrapping paper mounted to the wall behind her. The gold foil paper looked like something rich people would wrap their presents in. But I kind of liked the snowmen …
“The snowmen,” I said.
“That’s my favorite,” the lady said.
She unrolled some brightly colored paper printed with snowmen on ice skates, folded my purchase into a box lined with tissue paper, wrapped the box and topped it with a bright red bow. Then she ran streamers of red ribbon over a scissors blade until they curled into little ringlets.
“Would you like this in a bag” she asked.
I knew there wouldn’t be an extra charge for that.
“Uh, yes … please.”
She slid the present into a fancy paper bag with actual handles and pushed the bag across the counter.
“She’s going to love it,” the lady said. She sure looked like Grandma.
Mom and Dad were chewing in slow motion, which seems pretty unnecessary when you’re having oyster stew. But maybe it just felt like they were eating slowly because three young boys had inhaled their suppers.
While Mom and Dad did the supper dishes, my brothers and I sat impatiently in the living room and pondered the presents that surrounded the Christmas tree.
Dad was carrying a glass of eggnog when he finally came in from the kitchen.
“Should we just wait until tomorrow to open the presents?” he asked with a mischievous grin.
“NO!” we shouted.
“The boys want to wait until tomorrow to open presents,” Dad said when Mom came into the room.
“OK, then,” Mom said, “hand out the …” Before she even finished we attacked the pile of presents like piranhas on a wildebeest.
Two minutes later we were each sitting behind a handful of gifts and the space under the tree was bare, which always made me kind of sad.
“Who goes first?” one brother asked.
“Mom!” I said.
She took a present from her stack and carefully removed the wrapping paper “so we can use it again next year.”
“Perfume!” she said with surprise, even though she’d put it first on her list. She spritzed some on her wrist and took a deep breath. “Mmmm … nice!” My brother crossed the room and gave her a big hug.
We took turns, each opening a present, and came back around to Mom.
“Stationery!” she said. “I’ll use this the next time I write to Grandma!” My other brother crossed the room and gave her a big hug.
Another trip around the room and back to Mom.
“What pretty wrapping paper!” she said as she gently removed the bright red bow and little red ringlets.
She slipped the top off the box and folded back the tissue paper.
“Oooooh, isn’t this a pretty color!” she said, holding up her new pink bathrobe. The rhinestones glittered as they reflected the light from the Christmas tree.
“Do you like it? I asked.
“I love it!”
The lady in the store was right.
The best present I got that year wasn’t wrapped in bright paper and didn’t come from under the tree: there’s no gift more special than a Christmas Eve hug from Mom.