By Ralph Hood
What was your favorite Christmas present? It’s one of those questions that’ll drive you crazy if you let it, (and you know you’re gonna let it.)
My second favorite present was the bicycle—not a bicycle, but the bicycle. I didn’t grow up rough, but I did grow up when one kid got one bicycle, not one every two years.
I didn’t expect a bicycle that year. When we came roaring into the living room on Christmas morning, it was the first thing I saw. It was so unexpected that all I could say was, “Who is that for?” Mother laughingly asked, “Well, who do you think it’s for?” Those are exact quotes. I remember each word like it was yesterday.
It was a red Schwinn with no extras, which was just perfect. Boys didn’t want extras. Extras were for girls and sissies.
The bike was way too big for me, but it was supposed to be. The theory was, you got a man’s bike and grew into it. I could ride the bike only by sliding from side to side, standing up. I couldn’t sit down, because my legs wouldn’t reach the pedals. I loved it.
But it wasn’t my favorite present. Actually, that bike is one of the few presents I remember getting. It was the best present I received, but it wasn’t my favorite.
My favorite present was not one I got, but one I gave.
Yes, that sounds corny and trite, and I don’t know if it really is better to give than to receive. I only know that the present I enjoyed the most was one I gave.
It was 1966, I was 25, and wife Gail was then-girlfriend Gail. We were unofficially engaged. She had no ring, but we had a long-standing agreement that the ring would come at Easter.
I cheated. I got her one for Christmas.
I wrapped that tiny ring in a largish box, nestled in cotton, with two bricks for ballast. I put it under the tree at Gail’s parents’ home (this was back when single girls often lived with their parents), and I let her wonder.
I gave her plenty of hints. I told her it required feeding, I told her it would keep her feet warm (to this day I haven’t found anything that really will), I worried aloud that she might not like the flavor and that it might spoil before Christmas.
Everybody in Gail’s family knew about the present. Everybody was in on it but Gail, and we all teased her about it.
We overdid it. By Christmas Day Gail was a nervous, hand-wringing wreck. Then, just before she was to open it, I hid the present. We almost lost Gail, right there. I brought it back quickly, just to calm her down.
Gail opened the present and broke immediately into tears. I feared she cried because she didn’t really want to marry me, but she swears it was because she was so happy.
She says it was her favorite Christmas present. I say it was mine.
Adapted from Ralph’s book, “The Truth & Other Lies.”