One Christmas—I don’t remember how old I was—I was consumed with a desire to know what I was getting for Christmas. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. I had discovered the truth of that one year when I woke in the night to hear voices downstairs in the living room.
We had a floor register in the bedroom. I crept silently out of bed and knelt down on the floor by the register. I still remember the smell of that register. It was a little metallic and a little lubricating oil and a little dust. Well, maybe a lot of dust. As I peered into the living room, I saw my parents placing presents under the Christmas tree. I had suspected for quite some time that there really was no Santa Claus.
We didn’t have two sticks to rub together. I was suspicious that some of my friends received presents from Santa that were quite grand, while our presents tended to be things we needed, like socks, slips, warm hats and mittens. It didn’t seem quite fair that Santa would bring fun stuff to my friends while we got useful stuff.
So, there I was, snooping in all the places where presents might be hidden in the days before Christmas. That’s how I found myself lifting the lid of the old cedar chest in my brother Pete’s bedroom. That cedar chest had seen better days. It came from my dad’s house when he was growing up. It had once had a caned lid, but the caning had long since fallen apart.
I lifted the lid ever so quietly so no one else would hear me. And then I saw it. A brand new copy of Jim Kjelgaard’s book, Big Red. My heart sunk with disappointment. It was a book about a dog. How boring. How dumb. What did I want with a book about an old dog? I liked the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. And then there was the Lives of the Saints book club my mother had enrolled me in. Every six weeks, I got another saint in the mail. Anything, anything but a book about an old dog!
I quietly replaced the lid of the cedar chest and slipped out of Pete’s room. What was I going to do about this? He had already bought the book. And we weren’t a family that returned gifts. I could never do that; it would hurt his feelings.
The only thing to do was pretend I never saw the darned old book about a darned old dog. I knew I had to act happy and excited about that book.
And that’s what I did on Christmas morning. I acted all happy and excited. I thanked my brother for that dumb old book about a dumb old dog. And, honestly? I never read it. It sat on my shelf for years and years. I was grateful that Pete never asked me how I liked it. Maybe he knew, now that I think about it. He might have figured out that I had snooped, because he probably did some snooping of his own over the years.
We don’t always get what we want. Our loved ones can’t always figure out what to give us. Sometimes we all may have been guilty of buying something for a loved one that we want ourselves. But I knew then, even as a little girl, that I had to rise above my disappointment and not hurt my big brother’s feelings. And I think that is one of the messages of Christmas.