The Best Christmas Gift of Them All

It was three days till Christmas,

I was ten years old,  sitting on my bed, surrounded by crumpled Christmas wrapping paper, and frustrated almost to the point of a temper tantrum.
This was the first year I’d gone, all by myself, to Kress’s 5 & 10, and bought Christmas presents.

Kress’s was filled with treasures to sort through until I found the perfect gifts for everybody. I bought a fountain pen for Daddy, a little pin shaped like a flower for Grandmama, and the most magnificent red beads for Mama.
I had a dollar left and thought of the three old ladies who lived on our street. They were always so sweet to me, especially Mrs. Gates. I went looking for presents for them, and what wonderful presents I found! Way in the back of the store I found a bin filled with vases that looked like real cut-glass, and they only cost a dime apiece. Then I saw a rack filled with plastic roses. Perfect! For my dollar, I could get each lady a vase with two red roses. I was thrilled with my gifts and ran home to wrap them, anticipating everybody’s delight.

Now I sat on my bed looking at the ugliest package I ever saw. I’d started out with a beautiful picture in my mind of what the gift would look like, and this crumpled and tattered thing wasn’t it. I ripped off the paper, which wasn’t easy because it was pretty much covered by the tape that held it together. After more tries I gave up on my creative ideas and got the gifts presentable. I consoled myself, but realized the important thing was what was inside.

I put them under the tree and got ready for a Christmas ritual with my family that I treasured. After supper, we got into our old, brown and white Plymouth Savoy and drove to Mobile to look at the Christmas lights. On the way, comfortable in the warm car and excited about the spectacles we’d see, I told a string of silly kid jokes that kept Mama and Daddy laughing. These are some of my best memories.

First, we went downtown to see the lights around Bienville Square, then we zig-zagged through the neighborhoods between Dauphin Street and Spring Hill Avenue. “Look! Look over there,” Mama squealed and pointed. Then, “Oh! Look at how they filled the yard with fairies. It’s a wonderland.” I pressed my face to the icy window and stared at the houses where I was sure only very rich people must live because they were big and so beautiful with dazzling Christmas lights. Even the entrances to the streets were lit up with lights, garlands, stars, and angels.

Christmas morning, we woke came into our living room that was colored by the lights on the tree and filled with the things Santa left, a Barbie doll in a red gown, a china tea set, and a Monopoly game. But I couldn’t wait to see their faces when my family opened their presents, and I wasn’t disappointed. Grandma put her pin right on her nightgown. Daddy said, “I’ll have to write a letter so I can use this fine pen.” Mama looked the most surprised when she saw the large red beads.

After breakfast, I went to see the ladies, bringing their presents. They were all surprised and happy. Then I got to Mrs. Gates house, where I learned the thrill of giving.

When she saw the vase with two plastic roses, you’d have thought it was a Cadillac car. She looked at it with awe. “Ooooh! Isn’t this the prettiest thing,” she crooned and hugged me.
Then she traced her finger over every angle of the vase, held it up to the light and exclaimed, “My! My! My! Look how it sparkles, just like crystal.” She took my little present and gave me the best gift in return.
Mrs. Gates didn’t stop there. Whenever I passed her and she was talking to neighbors, Mrs. Gates called out to me, and bragged that I was, “the best girl there ever was. Ruthi has never missed a Christmas. She always remembers the old folks and brings us a little something.” Even though I knew it wasn’t true, I loved her saying it.

Mrs. Gates gave me the gift of appreciation and I wanted to be the girl she told everybody I was.



December 4, 2018