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.


The Princess and the Pelican

In November, the Princess learned that unless she wanted to be losing them, she’d best use her “floating holidays” by the second week of December or she would be kissing those days “good-bye”.

So, like the respectful royalty that she is, she put in for the time off and we got our buddy, Jimmy John (alias JJ), involved with our plans for silliness and merrymaking, and decided that a trip down to Monterey to do some bike riding along the coast would be a nice way to spend her time off.

Being the pizza and pastry lover that I am, though, I can’t drive down to Monterey, without a stopover in Capitola for a thin-crusted slice of pizza from a joint named, “Pizza My Heart” or a pastry from “Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria”.

So, the three of us agreed, before hitting Monterey’s coastline for bike riding, that a detour to this quaint beach town – known more for its steep cliffs and colorful houses and hotels, than its pizza joints and bakeries – was definitely on the agenda for the day.

The Princess and I had never been down to Capitola during the Christmas season and were pleasantly surprised to find “free parking” and Christmas music being piped-in throughout the village’s popular downtown.

Unlike other times of the year, the streets were pretty empty of tourists, and with the fog and overcast sky, it seemed more like a scene straight out of the Dicken’s era, if it weren’t for Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” playing in the background.

With nearby parking to the pizza joint and no one in the usual cue in front of the place, we quickly placed our orders and got served lickety-split.

Because this restaurant has no seating for its customers, and also because we enjoy eating with “an ocean view”, we headed down to the nearby beach to sit on a bench and watch the local surfers ride the unusually large waves of the season and enjoy our prized slice of pizza.

The powerful waves and surf had created a lot of beach debris, so no one, besides the multitude of pelicans and other shorebirds, was on the beach.

We decided that sitting on the boardwalk’s benches and using the cement beach wall, that separated the walk from the beach, as our “outdoor table”, would be the best plan of action for enjoying our pizza; and started to do just that, when out of nowhere, in one fell swoop, a pelican snatched the Princess’s slice of pizza out of her hand and gulped it down without so much as a “How do you do?”

The Princess, caught off guard and in total shock, stared at me in child-like innocence and whined, “OMG! That pelican just ate my slice of pizza. Did you see him? I can’t believe it, but that flippin’ bird just grabbed my slice of pizza outta my hand and ate the whole damn slice!


(And she expected this bird to share her pizza with her and leave her a piece?)


In the meantime, she began to hungrily eye-ball my slice of pizza, looking for sympathy from me and JJ.

And, of course, being the sympathetic partner that I am, I let her know that she was shit outta luck when it came to sharing MY pizza and that if she wanted pizza for lunch, that she’d best head-on back to the pizza joint to buy another slice.

JJ just kept laughing, as he kicked back on the bench and savored his pizza, and told her that he saw the bird zero-in on her, but by the time he went to warn her, it nosedived directly at her and it was too late to say anything.


Photo credit: Pizza My Heart

Totally disgusted with all of us – Me, JJ and her new friend, Petey the Pelican – she traipsed back to “Pizza My Heart” for another piece of pizza, walked into the restaurant and announced to the clerk, “I just got mugged by one of your beach pelicans and I need another slice of pepperoni pizza.”

“Well,” the young man responded, “You’re in luck this afternoon, ‘cuz we have special insurance on pelican muggings and your pizza is on US today!”

Then he graciously proceeded to tell her how the shorebirds were unusually aggressive this time of year because there weren’t a lot of people feeding them and sent her on her merry way with another hot slice of peperoni pizza safely ensconced in a pelican proof pizza box.

Be careful out there, People.

Unfortunately, it’s that time of year again, when predators, of all shapes and sizes, come out of nowhere and swoop-in and take our valuables.

Have a Merry Christmas and I’ll catch ya next adventure, looking at life from my shoes.