A Gift of a Lifetime

Childhood memories do not come easily to me. Unlike friends in my life who can recall moments from their infancy (I kid you not), I do not have that talent.

So when I recently thought of an incident that happened in Mrs. O’Neill’s Kindergarten class, I was pleasantly surprised.

Times weren’t easy for our family back then. Money was tight. My father was wrestling with undiagnosed PTSD and struggling with inconceivable demons from the Korean War. 

And my mother, well, my mother was doing everything else. Mom was our rock back then and throughout our lives. 

And was the rudder to our well-worn ship throughout our lives until she passed.

So, when I came home from school that December and informed her that I’d need a gift for our class Christmas party, she took it in stride and off to the local Woolworth’s store we went where we bought one nifty (and highly desired) Barbie and Ken Colorforms Play Set.

On the day of the party, I could hardly contain my excitement. Mom had baked and decorated cup cakes for class, wrapped my gift and off to school I went that morning. 

“How could life get any better?” I thought to myself as I trudged through the snow carrying my special Christmas packages.

“I had a neat secret Santa gift, Mom made her special cup cakes, and it was only a few days before Santa came to town. Dang! Life was good,” I told myself as I entered the school.

Mrs. O’Neill greeted me and the other children as we stomped off the snow from our boots, busily chatting with each other while hanging our jackets on our assigned hooks.

“Children,” she said.

“Put your secret Santa gifts under the tree and then find your place mats on the floor,” she continued.

“You need to settle down so we can finish making our Xmas projects for our parents and sing some songs.”

“The sooner you settle down,” she patiently continued, “the sooner we hand out our secret Santa gifts.”

Not one that liked to stop socializing with my buddies, I wasn’t too thrilled to stop chatting, but saw that Cathy Persico was quietly on her floor mat and thought I’d be damned if I ended up on Santa’s naughty list this close to Christmas. 

(And I’d be double damned if I’d let “Ms. Goody two shoes” get one over on me.)

“No siree-Bob! This girl wasn’t getting coal in my stocking for Christmas. I’d worked too hard all year long,” I thought to myself as I bee lined for my assigned mat and quietly sat down.

We could barely control our holiday excitement, but managed to hold it together long enough to finish our projects and sing and then lo and behold, those long awaited words from our teacher finally came.

“Children,” she started, “It’s time to hand out our secret Santa gifts. I’ll call out your names and you come up to the tree. Tommy will play Santa’s helper and hand out your gift. When you get it, please go back to your mat and do not open it until everyone has theirs and I tell you to open them,” she instructed.

And then she proceeded to call out our names and one by one we were given our gifts.

Mine was wrapped in white tissue paper and felt like two thick pencils.

You could feel the excitement in the air as Mrs. O’Neill gave us permission to open our gifts.

I ripped off the tissue paper and stared dumbfounded at my present.

“OMG,” I said out loud. “This is my gift?”

“Two white candles? Really?”

I started looking at everyone else’s gifts and suddenly felt sad and somehow cheated.

Kids were excitedly showing me their presents and asking to see mine and all I could say was, “ I got two stupid candles.”

I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or be angry.

Then I noticed the brown-eyed girl with a pageboy haircut standing behind my group of friends looking down at her shoes while slowly lifting her head.

It only took one look into her now misty brown eyes to know that this girl was my secret Santa.

She was the one who gave me the gift.

I felt terrible.

I told a group of kids that it was a “stupid gift” and suddenly realized that what I said was hurtful. And I didn’t know what to do or say.

I wasn’t happy with getting candles as a gift, but I certainly didn’t want to hurt this little girl’s feelings.

Who knows why she gave me candles as a gift? Maybe she forgot to tell her parents about getting a secret Santa gift for our party. Maybe her family couldn’t afford to buy anything.

Could have been one of a dozen reasons.

I don’t know.

I just know that I hurt her feelings and that it was a pretty yucky feeling.

To this day I regret what I said. And what’s worse, is that I never had the chance to apologize to her.

The little brown-eyed girl with the pageboy haircut never came back to school after winter break. We were told that the family moved out of town.

And that stupid gift I received as a five year old, was the gift of a life time; only I didn’t know it until years later.

Many years later…

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a healthy, Happy New Year!

Love, Lucie and the Princess.