I just realized that my subscribers will receive a notification of my most recent post on Christmas eve. For some reason that idea made me really excited. Those who know me well know that I love to laugh and, in general, it doesn’t take much of an attempt at comedy to get a giggle out of me. The truth is that my insides sometimes overflow with laughter even when I must maintain a straight face to figuratively save face or to respect the space. I can usually find humor in most situations and only those who can interpret my facial expressions have a clue that behind the strained stoic expression sits a laugh waiting for the opportune time to populate the room.
I have been dismissed by some over the years because of my childish, immature approach to life. Most often the dismissals come from those who choose conformity to the societal norms that tend to suppress the life out of your bones in search of a formal, exact, and perfectly imperfect you. Well, that is not and has never been me. Even the traditions of a regal Christmas season could not steal my childish joy.
As I reflect on my most fond Christmas memories, the ritual of gift wrapping stands out. I had the reputation in the family of being the best gift wrapper. Eventually, I believed I was the best because my wrapped packages had crisp corners, invisible tape, varied types of ribbons, and a bountiful assortment of paper colors and patterns. As much as my family tried to convince me that gift wrapping was one of the spiritual gifts, I knew that my role as a God-fearing child subject to parental instruction was really the basis of me as a gift wrapping child prodigy. Like any other child prodigy, I practiced, practiced, and practiced until I became infamous for my craft.
Keeping in mind all that I have revealed thus far, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I found a way to repay my family for the esteemed title of best gift wrapper. Reverse psychology at the hands of skilled educators deserved to be repaid by their most prized pupil. After the first gratuitous installment, they all expected that someone each year would be the recipient of a twisted Christmas surprise courtesy of the famed gift wrapper – me. Most often the victim of my ingenious plans was my brother, Butch. He was the oldest. He didn’t live at home with me. And he had a sense of humor that rivaled mine. So, he was the perfect educator in the family to be pranked.
The first year that I recall pranking him I must have been about twelve or thirteen. In addition to being a high school band director at Autaugaville High School, he drove the school bus. Because he travelled thirty to forty miles to work, one-way, he left home very early in order to pick up students on the rural bus route. During the winter months, the Alabama darkness chilled him to the degree that he told Mama how much he would appreciate a nice pair of gloves for Christmas. Apparently, the steering wheel and gear shift on the bus shocked his gloveless hands sending waves of frigid cold through his body. Mama loved Butch and she was proud of the work he did as an educator. Anything Mama could do to enhance his teaching experience made her beam with pleasure. I was with her when she selected the nice pair of black leather gloves for him. I think the gloves had some sort of furry lining making them perfect cover for his bare hands on a chilly morning. The retailer was kind enough to leave the gloves boxed. I appreciated the gesture as would any excellent gift wrapper in search of the perfect box (since gift bags were not a thing at that time).
Proud Mama bought the gloves and decided to surprise him with a hat. He didn’t ask for a hat because he probably already had one, but Mama knew his propensity to lose hats and gloves so the hat was a perfect bonus gift. I also knew what nobody was saying out loud: Butch’s scalp was becoming more visible behind the cowlicks and the overall changes in his hairline. I thought Mama’s subtle move was quietly motivated by the mother hen urge to care for her baby boy whose head was showing signs of maturity.
All the fuss over selecting the perfect gloves and matching hat created a conversation topic all the way home from the mall. Mama loved finding the perfect gift and I loved helping her shop. We were a perfect little elf team. The problem for him and for Mama was that I was not his Mama. I was his baby sister with a gift of menacing tendencies aimed at disturbing his normal. Mama’s aura of warmth screeched to a halt when I sat down to wrap the gifts. Much like the twinkle in the eyes of the Grinch when he had the magnificent idea to challenge a Christmas tradition, I had a mischievous idea to shock the socks off of Mama and Butch in order to generate a hearty laugh for me (and hopefully the rest of them at some point).
I removed the gloves from the perfect box and replaced them with the matching hat. I told nobody and followed my normal routine for gift wrapping, labeling, and placement of gifts under the tree. Butch had a wife and child so they celebrated together before coming over to open gifts with us. I could not wait for him to arrive. Of course, Mama wanted nothing more than to see his expression when he opened the glove box. What she didn’t know was that expression from him would be my second favorite expression on his face Christmas morning. My first favorite expression would be the one when he realized the perfect glove box contained a hat (that he didn’t request from Santa.)
Keeping a secret challenged Mama so she appeared more anxious than normal as she anticipated him unwrapping the perfectly wrapped glove box. Her pleasant smile, tilted head, and baited breath said it all. Daddy, on the other hand, honestly could care less about what was under the tree as long as everybody got something they liked so he just sat contently taking in the moment.
Butch took off the paper and gave a huge smile. He smiled and rocked back and forth while exclaiming something like, “Oh wow! This is just what I needed!” I was thinking, “No duh because that’s the only thing you asked for Big Brother.” Then, he opened the box and pulled out the hat. The flush of excitement drained from his face. Mama’s smile flipped to a face of confusion. Heads rotated. All eyes looked at me with suspicious curiosity. I could contain my grin no more. Out came the smile as I sang the words “Merry Christmas” through my snickers. Mama probably thought I disposed of the gloves and Butch didn’t seem to know what to think. He had to resume that thankful spirited exhibition for Mama’s sake (and his pride) which gave me more reason to giggle. No one else shared the rise of laughter building inside of me until he opened another gift and discovered the black leather gloves. From that day forward, there were years of gift pranking between Butch and me.
This is my first Christmas without him, the third without Mama, and the twentieth anniversary of Daddy’s absence from Christmas gift opening. I miss them sorely and often wish for one more talk or gift exchange with them. Since we can do neither, I am thankful for the shared memories that survived their deaths. I am thankful that they indulged my comedic, youthful spirit and lovingly encouraged me to engage life using laughter as a tool. Laughter tolerates ignorance. Laughter sustains me when I need to persevere. Laughter is a tool for survival and healing. Humor eases the pain of loss. Humor promotes the goodness of life.
If you believe that Christmas or your season of remembrance and celebration embodies the spirit of rebirth, regeneration, and rejoicing, then set aside any thoughts or feelings to the contrary during this holiday season. Be about the fullness of the spirited season. Embrace the spirit of life, the spirit of love, and the spirit of giving laughter!