Best Christmas Presents

Joanna still tells the story of the first time she visited my family at Christmas. Although she had come from an upper middle-class home, she’d never seen so many presents under a tree. In fact, they weren’t just under the tree. They were under and around and near the tree. They were piled in corners on the opposite side of the room from the tree. On more than one occasion I’ve opened a small present to find a note telling me to look in my parents’ closet, where I would find . . . another present. The first time she opened gifts with us, Joanna sat there giggling, delighted and maybe just a wee bit embarrassed by the pile of loot that surrounded each of us. That’s Christmas in the Hughes house.

I know that story isn’t exactly in the spirit of Christmas charity, but here’s the thing: my family has never been especially wealthy. We open a lot of presents on Christmas morning because my mother loves to give. She does it year-round and in any number of ways, but Christmas is like her Super Bowl. The first or second week of November we start getting notes, asking for ideas. One of these years, we’re all going to respond promptly and she’s going to get to fulfill her Christmas wish: All of the presents will be bought, wrapped, and in the mail by Thanksgiving. She will check off her checklists, take a deep breath, relax for an afternoon, and then, if I know my mother, spend all of December buying more gifts.

Yesterday we got a sweet Christmas card from my parents. Included in it was a check for each of us and a note warning us to be on the lookout for some packages. I feel guilty about the check because I know that writing it deprives my mother of some of her fun. And I know I’m responsible for the check because I’m so horrible at offering suggestions. My mother, the gift-giver, has gotten a son who’s a terrible gift-getter. Jo and I were talking about this yesterday, and I’ve realized (to my embarrassment) that I’m not good at getting gifts because I take so much pleasure from shopping. I like to browse and to research and to make informed decisions. Like, I’m actually really excited about the check because I know I can go to the Disc Exchange and spend a guilt-free evening hunting for more gap-fillers. I wish, for my mother’s sake, that I could somehow wrap up that experience, put it under our tree, and open it in front of her.

And so amid the mad dash of last-week Christmas shopping, here are . . .

The Five Best Christmas Presents I Ever Found Under the Tree

  1. Millennium Falcon — An easy #1. Fully assembled by Santa (dad).
  2. Legos, Legos, Legos — I have too much pride to admit how old I was when I stopped getting legos for Christmas.
  3. Daisy pump-action BB gun — A Christmas Story has made it a cliche, but . . .
  4. Marvel Variety Pack — In ’83 or ’84 I got a pack of twenty or so Marvel comic books. For the next three years, all of my allowance found its way to the register at Twilight Zone comics in downtown Annapolis.
  5. My boots — Eight or nine years ago, my mother surprised me with a pair of Timberland boots. I say “surprised” because I’d never mentioned wanting a pair, nor had the thought ever really occurred to me. So, for the record, let me now state that THESE ARE THE GREATEST BOOTS EVER! If you see me any time between, say, November 1 and March 1, chances are I’ll be wearing them. I bet I’ve worn them for at least 10,000 hours.