When I was a child the holidays were very important. My mother began the preparations far before most, and the house took on this sort of older, tinsel aura. Things would seem warmer, and everyone would begin to fight just a little less. We’d start the season off before Thanksgiving, but a certain special something would fill the air after the Thanksgiving parade, as the radio played from the kitchen, my mother working tirelessly.
Soon after Thanksgiving would the holiday shopping start. My father always trying to find the perfect gift, just as he did year after year. Off to the mall, we would go, just he and I, to wrestle the crowds and try to find the perfect item to gift my mother on Christmas morning. My father was a mild-mannered man, but he tried to treat those he cared for with kindness and care. Because of this, he was rather chivalrous, and so he put extra time into his gift choices. He and I would pile into his pickup truck and make the half-hour drive down into the city to go to the mall. Sometimes, we’d stop off at the gas station and get an ice cream cone to share. He would eat the nuts off the top and hand me the rest.
One particular year it would be more my decision on what we’d get my mother. I knew it would be jewelry because it was always jewelry, I had made this trip at least a dozen times in my short life. I was probably about five years old now, and I had a special relationship with my mother, though not quite the mama’s boy that others my age were. We had a mutual understanding and I was quickly learning from my father that girls like nice things, especially my mother. But she liked thoughtful nice things, not necessarily expensive. We approached the jewelry store, my father walking beside me in his blue jeans and red flannel. He had on worn moccasin shoes and I was probably in some sweater that Bill Cosby himself would have worn. I remember how bright the display cases looked, each with treasure after treasure. I knew that we could find her the perfect gift, and I was somewhat excited about the decision, as I enjoyed making the decisions.
I walked through the store, carefully examining each piece. My father asking questions, carefully trying not to lead me in any one direction or the other. I was terribly shy, and the ladies behind the counter made me nervous. But I had a mission to complete, and I was out to do just that. After some deliberation, I made my way toward the case featuring more heart jewelry, one caught my eye. It was a golden elephant and I knew how much my mother loved elephants. I was delighted at the idea of a new necklace for her. I would spend hours in her lap, my fingers running over each necklace, my favorite being the merry go round horses that hung from her neck in pairs. I knew that the elephant would be perfect, and I excitedly announced so.
My father smiled, forever patient. The elephant probably wasn’t what he would have chosen, but I don’t think he really believed my choice was all that bad, the house was full of elephants and she adored them. We bought the elephant, and I was thrilled to carry the bag out of the mall. I was very proud of this choice, just as I was very proud when I was lifted upon my father’s shoulders to place the angel on top of our tree. I could hardly wait to show her what we chose, knowing that she would adore the elephant necklace in the nice black box.
My father hid the elephant, as I eagerly waited for Christmas morning to arrive. How excited I was when it did. That year I had also planned my own special gift. I had cleverly (or so I thought) made my mother scuba diving gear from the cardboard paper rolls I had collected throughout the house. I even made her a snorkel, completely overlooking the fact that my mother didn’t scuba dive and she could never scuba dive with cardboard equipment. It made no difference because that morning the elephant in the room was indeed golden, and it would remain, long after my father’s death just a few years later.