After learning of the little social experiment which showed that something as simple as asking a different question from Santa could lead children to be more considerate and generous, I thought I’d try the idea out myself.
So I says to my self, says I, “Self… Yo, Self. Over here, it’s me, dadgummit,” in my very best Walter Brennan voice with a little bit of vernacular thrown in from each half of the previous century. I’ve found it best to sort of sneak up on myself whenever I’m about to propose one of those self-improvement projects. The ole badger is getting pretty cagey about such nonsense. I cornered the rascal on the recliner with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“Self,” I says then, says I, “how would Christmas be different for us if we just totally forgot about getttin’ and focused on givin’ this year?”
Boy Howdy, did that send a shock wave across the living room. It bounced off the flat screen TV and hit Self right in the chest. Coffee spewed across the carpet, spattering the glass panes on the French door that opens into the mudroom. A few minutes of a paper bag smooshed against his face calmed the hyperventilating and generally muffled the profanity. A quick elbow to the stomach ended the attempt to flee the scene, and further helped with the hyperventilating. It’s pretty tricky to hyperventilate when your lungs are suddenly and decisively voided of air.
It took most of the evening but I got the idea across and a plan laid out.
I decided that even though it was a bit chilly in mid-December and our garage has no significant source of heat, Self and I were going to surprise all of my daughters with a handmade Christmas gift. It took a few days, a bit of shivering, several breaks inside the house and a lot of dust and elbow grease but I got them all made and shipped in time for Christmas. Well, nearly all of them. Apparently, Key West, Florida, is only technically part of the United States. UPS’s delivery schedule treats them more like a land-locked country near the lower portion of one of the southern hemisphere’s continents.
I didn’t include a note explaining the intended purpose of the hand-made gift but one of my daughters-in-law had it figured out almost instantly. By eight a.m. on Christmas Day, I had received a picture of the cherry and poplar rack with a freshly baked casserole still in a 9 x 13 baking pan sitting right in the exactly intended position. All of the daughters apparently were just pretty darned pleased with their gifts. And their perceptive mates seemed to figure out that anything that encouraged and rewarded home cooking was a good deal for them, too.
Throughout all of the work cutting, shaping, drilling, boring, sanding, gluing and finishing and continuing right on to the packing, hauling and shipping, I was just pretty darn pleased with myself, thinking that nine women that I love were going to be pretty well pleased with me and my Self, too. In spite of his celebratory inclination, Self just had to point out, “Counting all the daughters, I only come up with seven.”
Self was always better in math than I was but less proactive in personal matters. “We have a wife and she has a sister-in-law who lives close by here. They both are mighty fine cooks.” Even Self understood that proximity and culinary talent is a very powerful combination.
And Self, well in spite of his original lack of enthusiasm for the idea, he had just about the best Christmas he’s ever had since setting the neighbor’s Christmas tree on fire back in the 50’s. Including that lesson about pine needles and Roman Candles and the general drawbacks of indoor incendiary celebrations, we’ve both learned a lot over the years.
This wasn’t the first time we both learned something from kids, either. The best lessons came from one born in a manger a couple of thousand years ago. I think he’s the one who was quoted as having said, “It is better to give than to receive.”