Christmas morning hasn’t been as magical as I remember it from my childhood. At least not until this morning. As I look out the front window, there’s fluffy snow calmly settling on the leafless branches across the street. Even the egg nog I dribbled all over my sweater can’t ruin this moment of bliss. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is playing in the background, the perfect song for the moment.
“Todd,” says my mother from across the room. “Time to open presents.”
Even in my 30’s, my parents still spoil me. And now they even spoil my girlfriend, Jill. This is our second – no, third - Christmas together. Admittedly I receive less presents now than I did when I was a kid, but I’m happy with our simple tradition of opening presents by the fireplace at my parent’s house, and later the dreaded tradition of lutefisk. If you don’t know what that is, good.
I watch as my parents open their gifts from me, and I’m full of anticipation as they rip into them.
“Popcorn.” says my father. “Wow, this should last me until next year. Oh, and Casablanca.” He smiles as he wanders off into his happy place.
My mother is noticeably confused, then she realizes what I gifted her. She laughs, “Did you do all these drawings?” She goes through her calendar, month by month, her eyes almost misty. “I love it, thank you.”
I had a calendar printed from cartoon drawings I made of our family, each month a drawing of real moments in our lives. I’m not a great artist, but my cartoons have a long-lasting tradition of entertaining my family, especially my mother. And let’s not forget my sister. We usually get books for one another, this time she opens the fourth and fifth from her beloved series. Now it’s my turn, and for my last gift I already know it’s a book.
I open it up and turn it around…hmm. Oddly, this is a huge fear of mine: receiving a gift I already own. My anxiety kicks in. Do I tell her I already own it. Do I act surprised? oh god. They’re all looking.
“The gift receipt is in the front page.” She says. She has a gift receipt for all her presents.
“Thank you, this is great.” A white lie, for it is indeed a great autobiography.
A song we mutually loathe comes on, causing a distraction from my inner meltdown. I use the moment to change the subject as I hide the book by my side in a shame that no one knows of but myself.
Only Jill can read that something is off with me, and as my true hero she stands and declares that it’s time for cookies.
A couple days after Christmas, I’m at home sitting on my favorite chair, looking over my gifts. There’s that darn book. By this point, Jill knows all about the double-book debacle.
“Why don’t you just donate it.” She says more than asks.
“Well, usually I would, but you know how it is with my sister. She left the gift receipt in there for a reason. If I replace it with another book, then I still get a good gift from her.”
Jill shakes her head in humorous disappointment. Something I have grown accustomed to seeing nearly every day in our home.
I decide to exchange the book today, so I get dressed up for the cold. At the door, I’ve got my boots on, and as I get my gloves on, “okay, I’m ready to go. It shouldn’t take long at all”
“Alright,” she says, “but if you take my car, you’ll need to fill the tank.”
“I’d rather take my four-wheel drive, it’s snowing pretty hard. I’ll get you gas tomorrow.”
“That’s fine.” She says. “But if it’s snowing, I really think you should go another day.”
“I just want to get it over with, you know me. Besides, there’s another book I’m excited about, I can buy that after I return this one.”
There’s that look again from Jill.
“See you soon.” I say.
Why is it already night? I think to myself. It’s only 4:30. I look out to the dark street and see a heavy snow flying every which way, doing a swaying dance under the streetlights. I start my SUV and blast the heat, then start clearing off the snow. By the time I do a full circle, I have to quickly clear where I had started. Oh yeah, snow on the headlights. Then wham! I was on the ground before I even knew I was falling. Slick ice hiding under the fresh snow. Full frontal snow angel. I got up and did an inspection of my limbs and icy face. I’m too cold to know if I hurt myself, but all my limbs work the way they’re supposed to. I turn the engine off and head back inside.
Jill is right inside the door doing dishes. I’m covered in snow, head to toe. She laughs so hard I have to wait to give an unneeded explanation.
“It’s down my shirt.” I say as I shiver. “I need to go change.” I scurry passed her and her joyous laughter.
After putting on dry clothes, I’m back outside and crank the heat, and re-clear the windows and then it’s time to go. As I’m driving down the driveway, I notice something is off. Once I get to the plowed street it’s obvious something is wrong. I pulled over to inspect and sure enough, I have a flat. I’ll deal with this later.
I carefully drive back up the driveway and park next to Jill’s car. Now I have to clear her car off.
I go back inside. “Now what?” Jill says.
“I have a flat, I need your car keys.”
I go through everything again with her car, then I’m off!
No I’m not. I can’t get her car through the snow.
“What now?” she asks as I return again.
“I need to open the garage to get the shovel, your car can’t make it through the snow.”
“Just do it another day Todd.”
“No. I’ve come too far. I’m doing this.”
A half-hour later, there’s a path out of the driveway. I clear her car off again, then pop inside the house.
“Todd!” She says somewhat angrily.
“I’m just saying goodbye. This is my moment. I love you.”
“I love you too,” she replies. “Stay safe.”
Oh man, I need gas.
After filling the tank, I finally made it to the store. I don’t have the book!
“Wow, you finally did it.” Says Jill as I return home.
“Nope. I left the book in my car. I’m just keeping you updated.” I turn and go back outside. I know she’s shaking her head in disapproval. “Alright, I’ll be back.” I say as I close the door.
Now, I’m back at the store. Oh no. The return line is a mile long. I can’t give up now.
The line took forever, but I’m here. I made it to the front of the line.
“Nice sweater,” the cashier says.
“Thanks,” I reply, as I look down and realize that I changed into my egg nog-stained sweater. I blush a little, and now I can’t help but notice the smell.
“Oh, I’m sorry sir, but this wasn’t purchased at our store.” And she shows me the return receipt.
I headed back to the snow-covered car somewhat, but not entirely, defeated. I then went to the correct store, and finally succeeded in returning the book, and I took home my replacement gift.
A month later my sister visits to have lunch and make fun of me with Jill. Their favorite hobby.
I awkwardly put down the book I bought with the return money from the first book.
“Where’s the book I got you?” My sister asks as she looks over the bookshelf.
“It’s right there, middle shelf on the left.”
“I don’t see it” she says. “I see volume one by Mark Twain, but where’s the second volume I got you?”
Jill smirks and shakes her head again.